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. tomcat

    I believe that there are people like Josh that choose this lifestyle. I know of a guitar player that drifts from city to city much like the hobos of days past. I do offer this one concern. If somehow a homeless person is given the oppurtunity to advance themselves, it must be done with help. We need not look further than Ted Williams the"golden voice". His re interduction to society has been less than easy. This is akin to taking someone on death row that has been exonerated after 10 plus years. They are not prepared to comprehend what changes and challenges that they will face.

    January 15, 2011 at 3:32 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Josh

      Well said, Ted Williams is an awesome human being, cannot help but shed a tear, his voice is from god and truly "Golden"

      January 15, 2011 at 3:55 am | Report abuse |
  2. j

    Look who is in office and the majority is republicans in the house. Read up on socialism which this govt is no better than the last. Homelessness. Is not by choice. This country is becoming communist and nazism w the homelessness. Like they do at the humane society. Been homeless and I have exp myself. Calif is the worst state for being poor and look who is in office repuclican. He ruined the state. I was lucky. One time I was sitting doing nothing and got harassed bx the cops. I was middle class and lost everything due to past president. What a mess we are in.

    January 15, 2011 at 4:38 am | Report abuse | Reply
  3. tomcat

    j...this is not a question of republican vs. democrat. As usual, people are quick to point fingers due to race, politics or religion. I ask that you educate yourself on Houston's Mayor, Annise Parker. You may be surprised.

    January 15, 2011 at 5:06 am | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Tony49055

    This is a great example of why we don't want government involved in our lives... They do more to prohibit than help.. When are us Americans going to wake up and say enough is enough? According to reports, every area of our lives are regulated on average in 17 ways...

    January 15, 2011 at 6:28 am | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Ernie

    Goverment regulations are one of the main causes of our current 'depression' to begin with. When we give up freedom in the name of 'security', whether it be with food or anything else, that creates all kinds if idiot regulations enforced at the point of a gun (police) in the name of federal, state & local laws designed to extort the last dollar on the street for the support of a 'system' that is choking us to death. We had better wake up or soon we will be a no-nation. But it appears to be too late. When you cannot feed the homeless without the goverment's permission, things have gone "off the cliff".

    January 15, 2011 at 8:22 am | Report abuse | Reply
  6. RightIsRight

    Maybe now them lazy bumms will get a job if there are any afterobammacare

    January 15, 2011 at 9:29 am | Report abuse | Reply
  7. VA_Jill

    It's Texas. It's NIMBY all the way. And it's Houston, which made Katrina refugees' lives miserable. Is anyone surprised?

    January 15, 2011 at 9:32 am | Report abuse | Reply
  8. ChubbyCheckmate

    Every Limbo boy and girl
    All around the Limbo World
    Gonna do the Limbo Rock
    All around the Limbo Club

    Jack, be Limbo! Jack, be quick!
    Jack, go under Limbo stick!
    All around the Limbo Club!
    Hey, let’s do the Limbo Rock!
    Ahahahou!

    Limbo low now!
    Limbo low now!
    How low, can you go?

    But she’s by the Limbo beat,
    When you move to Limbo beat
    Limbo ain't and Limbo beat!
    When back light to Limbo beat!

    Jack, be Limbo! Jack, be quick!
    Jack, go under Limbo stick!
    All around the Limbo Club!
    Hey, let’s do the Limbo Rock!
    Ahahahou!

    Lalalalala…

    Get you super, Limbo Girl!
    Give they check to Limbo World!
    There’s a Limbo Moon above,
    You will fall in Limbo love!

    Jack, be Limbo! Jack, be quick!
    Jack, go under Limbo stick!
    All around the Limbo Club!
    Hey, let’s do the Limbo Rock!
    Ahahahou!

    Don’t move in Limbo stork!
    You're a Limbo stork!
    How low, can you go

    January 15, 2011 at 9:51 am | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Chopswell

    Let me try this again... How about they just dump all that food in the dumpsters? Then the gubmint won't have any problems.

    Our Gubmint: For Itself, By Itself. What a CROCK! I feel like I'm being literally MUGGED every time I pay my taxes!!!

    January 15, 2011 at 10:15 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Amber

      I agree. They don't care about them eating trash but home cook some food for them and u have all these issues. Its really sad.

      January 15, 2011 at 4:09 pm | Report abuse |
  10. bush's state?

    Come on! Bush was NOT born in tx, and as a texan I don't claim him. And talk trash all u want, our economy has done better than almost every other state in the last few years. But as far as bush is concerned, I think he was born in connecticut and he can go back any time hed please! Now, if ull excuse me, I have to go shoe my horses, bang my sister, and say 'get her done' at least five times to an inanimate object.

    January 15, 2011 at 10:19 am | Report abuse | Reply
  11. kim

    I guess digging in trash can for food is better then getting food from people that care and are doing all they can to help. I hope those people see the homeless just want a meal
    .

    January 15, 2011 at 10:20 am | Report abuse | Reply
  12. FinallytheTruth

    Finally a texan admits to their hobbies. News flash.....we've always known you like sister love. BTW, Bush WAS governor of texas and he didn't clear brush outside New Haven

    January 15, 2011 at 11:19 am | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Solmanus

    A fine example of big brother at its worst. There's nothing like a bureaucratic nightmare of red tape to thwart good intentions. If I made a sandwich for my neighbor, would I need a food permit to give it to him? These are homeless people, so I would think they have a bigger issue with hunger than foodborne illness.

    January 15, 2011 at 12:38 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Chig

    Texas is the greatest State in the Union. Texas is bigger and better than any State and our capital building is taller than the US's.

    Butt we don't give a longhorn crap about anyone who can't help themselves. That is why we are a conservative State.

    January 15, 2011 at 12:38 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  15. J Roycroft

    Ok – so let's make everyone who serves food at family gatherings, funerals, picnics, company picnics have a permit to serve food. This is total BS on the governments part. These homeless people will now go dig in dumpsters for food. This is Houston government forcing the homeless to eat dangerous food when they could be getting a safe hot meal. Way to go Houston! Government, another reason to distrust them.

    January 15, 2011 at 2:00 pm | Report abuse | Reply
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