Advocates sue to remove homeless feeding ban, cite faith

What unfolded near the steps of Houston City Hall was a calculated crime -- the gift of a half -dozen sandwiches to the homeless. Advocates claim the five-year-old feeding ban triggered a slow-motion crisis of hunger.

"Since this law has gone into effect, people have become more desperate for food," said Nick Cooper who advocates for the homeless population.

During a week when city leaders outlawed tent towns and issued strict new restrictions on panhandling, those seeking to be their "brother’s keeper" pushed back with a lawsuit.

"What we are saying to the City of Houston is do not trample upon people's religious freedom," said attorney Randall Kallinen, who filed the legal action on Wednesday. "In the Holy Bible, it says time and time again to feed the homeless." 

"Law-abiding, Bible-packing, God-fearing people who don't want to be criminalized when they are prompted or feel the urge to help people," said Phillip Bryant, the plaintiff in the lawsuit who says he's been barred from delivering tuna fish and crackers to people in need. And yet, the new mayor, like the last, believes random donation perpetuates the problem.

"As much as we desire to give, we are not helping, we are simply enabling the situation," said Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner following the Houston City Council meeting on Wednesday.

Many people who work with the homeless disagree with him.

"It enables them to survive," said advocate Shere Dore. "This is basic survival for the homeless community." 

Rick Gardner has lived and ministered on the streets for eight years and urges all who will listen to follow their faith.

"If God leads you to get out here and help the homeless, then you need to get out here and do it, no matter what the law says," said Gardner.

City Council member Michael Kubosh predicted that a vote on the issue would be "very close" if Mayor Turner allowed a reconsideration of the feeding ban.

Violation of the ordinance is a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $2,000.