Homeless outreach mission 'in limbo' after Houston shuts it down over food permit
January 14th, 2011
06:25 PM ET

Homeless outreach mission 'in limbo' after Houston shuts it down over food permit

Bobby Herring said the homeless outreach program he and his wife run is in jeopardy after health officials in Houston shut it down because the operation didn't have a permit to serve food.

As MLK Day, typically a big day for outreach programs, approaches, Herring, a  missionary and Christian rapper, said bureaucratic red tape has caused his program, Feed a Friend, to languish after 15 months of serving hot meals to the area homeless.

"It’s not us against them (health officials)," Herring said. "All we want is a solution to get back in action. We’re definitely not trying to start a fire, but I can't get the health department to call us back so we’re kind of in limbo."

Kathy Barton, a spokeswoman for the Health and Human Services Department, told CNN that the Herrings have not pursued a permit to serve food, at least not through the proper channels. "The Houston Health Department has had no interactions with the Herrings," she said in an e-mail Friday.

Herring and his wife, Amanda, have been down to the city's Health Department and have left messages with an official who has yet to call them back, Herring told CNN in a phone interview Friday.

Herring said he was told his operation would have to pay $17 a day for a permit, similar to event vendors.

"They (the homeless) are hungry. It’s freezing in Houston now, and the city doesn’t have to deal with it," he said. "The thing is,  I think it’s sad that in order to give food to the homeless, we have to have a permit."

Herring said the homeless outreach program, which is part of his Eyes On Me nonprofit, had served food across from a jail for about a year when officers approached him, saying, they had "a better spot," he said. They moved him to a city park, closer to the city's homeless, but now under the jurisdiction of a park ranger. Two weeks ago, two police officers accompanied by a park ranger told him he couldn't serve food any longer.

At issue, both the city and the Herrings say, is how the food is prepared and where it comes from.

"It is our understanding that they are preparing food in individual homes rather than in licensed kitchens which have features that reduce the possibility of food-borne illness," Barton said.

Herring said it would be a logistical nightmare for his program, which operates with a core group of about 15 people, to get different kitchens certified on a weekly basis. "We get volunteers to cook in their homes," he said.

Herring said about 75 people benefit from the daily free meals that the program provides.

"We started off in November 2009. At the job of my wife, who I was dating at the time, there was an auction at the end of the year and there would be so much food left. She asked (her employer), 'Could I take this downtown?' and she did it for two weeks," he said. "And she asked God, 'If you provide the food, I'll continue the service, and God did," Herring said.

Herring said he's gotten volunteers to donate their time, food and kitchens. "There's no government funding or church funding. It’s purely organic," he said.

It is that organic quality that Houston health officials are wary of, according to Barton.

"The Houston Food Ordinance applies the same standards of food preparation and service for free food and purchased food," Barton said. "We do not have different standards of sanitation and food protection for poor people than those for people with money."

"We don't have meetings. We don't have a strategy. We're not experienced in this," Herring said. "It's just out of love."

"The Houston Health Department is pursuing an ordinance which would apply to public feeding operations like the one operated by the Herrings," Barton said. "This ordinance would require a no-fee registration of feeding operations for the poor. The Health Department would provide, at no cost, training for a certified food manager."

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Filed under: Food • Texas
soundoff (124 Responses)
  1. bush's state?

    Texas is the greatest place on earth. If ur hatin on us in internet world, it just means we got something going better than you. Strong economy, strong workforce, and a strong ethic engrained in most of us. We have to deal with ignorant perspectives and stereotypes all day. Don't care, small price to pay for affordable houses, and good living. And honestly, we won't truly see bush's impact until years from now. It may be bad, but what has obama done? Not said, but actually done, besides make my retirement disappear and force me to a higher tax bracket? Bush may have been retarded, but at least he was straight up with his retardedness haha

    January 16, 2011 at 7:45 am | Report abuse |
  2. kae

    Oh My God! What is this world coming to? FEED THE HOMELESS

    January 16, 2011 at 10:18 am | Report abuse |
  3. Jenny

    It a shame that the homless people have to suffer like this because some idiots want you to have a permit to serve free food. And as for becky who made the dumbcomment to sterlize people on section 8 or welfare you might want to get your facts together because some of us have a job while still being able to get welfare and section 8. I work and section 8 don't pay my whole rent i actually pay half and they pay the other. So the topic is about helping the homeless not down talking people trying to make in life. Just because you don't need the help don't make you a better person then those who need the help. But anyways i truly hope everything get done soon before it is to late.

    January 16, 2011 at 12:31 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Jenny

    It a shame that the homless people have to suffer like this because some idiots want you to have a permit to serve free food. And as for becky who made the dumb comment to sterlize people on section 8 or welfare you might want to get your facts together because some of us have a job while still being able to get welfare and section 8. I work and section 8 don't pay my whole rent i actually pay half and they pay the other. So the topic is about helping the homeless not down talking people trying to make in life. Just because you don't need the help don't make you a better person then those who need the help. But anyways i truly hope everything get done soon before it is to late.

    January 16, 2011 at 12:31 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Heywood Jablome

    Regardless of why they are homeless–the city needs to drop its red tape and let these folks carry on God's work. The city is paying nothing for what these good people are doing–something they should be. Get a clue Houston.

    January 16, 2011 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Heywood Jablome

    The stars at night are not big and bright–deep in the heart of Houstooooon. What a black eye on the entire state of Texas!!!

    January 16, 2011 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • beenther

      Better then the herpetic soar my state of Californixico. Texas will always be the most sane state.

      January 16, 2011 at 5:13 pm | Report abuse |
  7. beenther

    Like I said b4, as soon as I stopped drinking I got myself off the streets. If you want to do something for the street folks don't feed the majority that small like booze!

    January 16, 2011 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
  8. sigsat

    Am I the only one here who sees a possible ulterior motive for this nonsense? Many cities seek to discourage the homeless from staying in the city. They engage in shameless campaigns to drive them out. They even round the homeless up and put them on buses to other cities!

    By making it nearly impossible to feed the homeless, the city of Houston makes the homeless far less likely to stay there rather than moving on to less inhospitable locations. Shame on Houston!

    January 19, 2011 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
  9. sigsat

    Yep, Beenther, that's the ticket! Let the drunks starve to death. It will probably be a little inconvenient on the Streets Department while they are busy scooping up tthe bodies and putting them in dumpsters. But, after the rush of bodies at first, the homeless problem will be greaqtly reduced and the stigma of all those homeless degenerates sleeping under bridges and on the shopping sidewalks won't be a problem any more...

    January 19, 2011 at 6:33 pm | Report abuse |
  10. this is crazy

    does this only apply to houston texas or does this apply all over the USA? this is crazy imagine you lose everything...how nice would it feel to have a nice warm meal??

    January 20, 2011 at 11:49 am | Report abuse |
  11. Commandrea

    How embarrassing and illogical and inhumane. I'm from Houston and we're working to get people to overturn this POS ordinance.

    March 5, 2012 at 9:25 pm | Report abuse |
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