Crime of Eating While Homeless
By outlawing dumpster diving, Houston is making life impossible
for the most vulnerable.
By Jim Hightower
May 26, 2013
Clearing House" -"Other
Whenever one of our cities gets a star turn as host of some
super-sparkly event, such as a national political gathering or
the Super Bowl, its first move is to tidy up — by having the
police sweep homeless people into jail, out of town, or under
But Houston’s tidy-uppers aren’t waiting for a world-class event
to rationalize going after homeless down-and-outers. They’ve
preemptively outlawed the “crime” of dumpster diving in the
March, James Kelly, a 44-year-old Navy veteran, was passing
through Houston on his way to connect with family in California.
Homeless, destitute, and hungry, he chose to check out the
dining delicacies in a trash bin near City Hall. Spotted by
police, Kelly was promptly charged with “disturbing the contents
of a garbage can in the [central] business district.” Seriously.
“I was just basically looking for something to eat,” he told the
Houston Chronicle. But, unbeknownst to both this indigent
tourist and the great majority of Houston’s generally generous
citizens, an ordinance dating way back to 1942 says that
“molesting garbage containers” is illegal.
Also, in 2012, city officials made it a crime for any group to
hand out food to the needy in the downtown area without first
getting a permit. It’s a cold use of legal authority to chase
the homeless away to…well, anywhere else.
Such laws are part of an effort throughout the country to
criminalize what some call “homeless behavior.” And, sure
enough, when hungry, the behavioral tendency of a homeless human
is to seek a bite of nourishment, often in such dining spots as
dumpsters. The homeless behavior that Houston has outlawed,
then, is eating.
The good news is that when Houstonians learned of Kelly’s
situation, many reached out to help him get through his hard
times. Now they need to reach out to local politicos and get the
city to stop cracking down on this abuse of homeless people.
OtherWords columnist Jim
Hightower is a radio commentator, writer, and public
speaker. He's also editor of the populist newsletter, The
Hightower Lowdown. OtherWords.org
What's your response?
Scroll down to add / read comments
Please read our
Comment Policy before posting -
We ask readers to play a proactive role and click
the "Report link [at the base of each comment] when
in your opinion, comments cross the line and become
purely offensive, racist or disrespectful to others.