'A huge win': Judge orders Houston to stop ticketing 'Food Not Bombs' for feeding homeless downtown

Jessica Willey Image
Thursday, February 15, 2024
'Food Not Bombs' granted temporary win in ongoing legal battle
The fight over feeding the homeless appears to be over, at least for now, as "Food Not Bombs" was granted a temporary injunction.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Food Not Bombs Houston, the organization that has been ticketed 90 times over the last year for providing free meals to homeless individuals near City Hall, has declared victory after a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction.

U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen granted two orders Wednesday essentially telling the City of Houston to stop citing volunteers with the organization, at least for now.

For almost a year, Houston police have been ticketing volunteers who feed the homeless at McKinney Street and Smith Street, near the Houston Public Library - Central Library, citing two city ordinances. One prohibits the use of public or private property for events without consent. The other prohibits the use of city property for food service events. Instead, the City offered 61 Riesner St., an old police station, as an alternate location.

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Food Not Bombs Houston sued the city in federal court citing civil rights violations. Judge Hanen granted an injunction.

"The judge said that we are ultimately likely to prove that we have a First Amendment right to be here on city property right across from City Hall," said Dustin Rynders, an attorney with Texas Civil Rights Project ,who represented the group. "It's a huge win."

However, on Wednesday night, police were still present. Aware of the injunction, they gave the group a warning and left.

The court order also states Food Not Bombs must pay a bond to continue their food service operation. Police were not sure that had happened. A supervisor told ABC13 they would reassess.

"We're just happy to share food and to share love through food," said John Locke, a volunteer.

In a statement to ABC13, Arturo Michel, the city attorney wrote:

"The Judge's order recognized that there were competing interests. Food Not Bombs has a First Amendment right to express its views. The City has an equally important right to ensure public safety and safeguard public health. Mayor Whitmire is committed to working together to resolve differences and agree upon an ordinance that allows expression and provides a safe and healthy environment at the central library and elsewhere for the homeless and their neighbors."

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