HOUSTON – A volunteer who was ticketed by Houston Police for feeding the homeless outside the public library back in March was found not guilty in a criminal court trial earlier this week.
Phillip Picone is with the group Food Not Bombs, which has been operating since 1995, but because of a city ordinance, they have been asked to move their operations to a different location.
On Sunday, Picone held a press conference outside the Houston Library on Smith Street with civil rights lawyer Randall Kallinen and trial lawyer Paul Kubosh.
Attorneys said this ordinance goes against the right to free speech. Picone called the court hearing a victory and said it would not stop him from feeding the homeless.
At the corner of McKinney and Smith Street in downtown Houston, homeless people lined up for a hot meal thanks to the group Food Not Bombs.
“We’ve got families that come out here with children to come out and eat. We serve them as well,” Shere Dore said.
Close to 45 volunteers from the group received tickets from Houston Police back in March for distributing food outside the library. It is an ordinance that has been in place since 2012. Paul Picone, an active volunteer went to court earlier this week and a jury found him not guilty for violating city law for feeding the homeless outside the library.
“It was a very pretentious victory. I was wanting to preclude that by saying that when there is unity there is always victory,” he said.
Paul Kubosh served as the trial lawyer and said Picone exercised his right to feed people in need.
“This law that the city has passed is absurd. It criminalizes the Samaritan for giving, for giving,” Kubosh said.
Civil rights attorney Randall Kallinen said no crimes were committed.
“Only the people who are conducting or sponsoring this event are supposed to be given tickets, but people who are just helping out are given tickets, so they don’t care if they fit into the law or not,” he said.
The City of Houston released the following statement after the news conference:
“The City of Houston intends to vigorously pursue violations of its ordinance relating to the feeding of the homeless. It is a health and safety issue for protecting Houston’s residents. There have been complaints and incidents regarding the congregation of the homeless around the library, even during off hours. No municipality prevails in every prosecution of a category of violations. Houston prevailed in the first matter and expected to do so in several others. The City has carefully balanced competing concerns, ensuring through its own program and though its significant allocation of funds that there are alternative, nearby feeding locations that have been well attended and well received.” - City of Houston Attorney Arturo Michel
The city offered Food Not Bombs to serve at 61 Riesner Street, but volunteers opposed it.
“We do not need to be in a place where we can see jail cells and barbed wire. A lot of the people we share food with are not comfortable bringing themselves there, they may be picked out and given special treatment by the police who are around,” one volunteer said.
Attorneys said another court hearing is scheduled for Thursday at the municipal court. Picone has filed a federal civil rights case to hold the law unconstitutional.