A homeless man ticketed for sifting through a dumpster is drawing worldwide attention and shedding light on a Houston municipal law advocates are labeling nothing short of Draconian.
Barely a block from City Hall, James Kelly was searching for food last Thursday when an officer wrote him a citation for "disturbing the contents of a garbage can." Unable to pay the fine, the 44-year-old veteran is set to appear in court April 10 to make his case.
H omeless activists are rallying behind Kelly in droves, saying that he wouldn't have been picking through the trash were it not for the city's so-called "feeding ordinance."
But homeless activists are rallying behind Kelly in droves, saying that he wouldn't have been picking through the trash were it not for the city's so-called "feeding ordinance" — a bill that criminalizes giving food to the needy without a permit from the health department and written consent from the property owner.
Since the law passed in 2011, unlicensed charitable feeding now carries a fine up to $2,000 a day.
“James Kelly is a nine-year veteran of the Navy, who has fallen on hard times,” Randall Kallinen, the civil rights attorney representing Kelly, told KHOU Ch. 11. "[The ordinance] has increased their desperation, so they’ve got to search for food wherever they can."
On Tuesday, Kallinen acknowledged that the ticket was not linked to the new ordinance but instead had been written under a decades-old ordinance that prohibits scavenging, "However, it's the same reasoning - to push the homeless people out of the downtown business district," he told the Houston Chronicle.
In the past week, the story has gained attention from media sources as far away as London, helping Kelly to rally support against the city's restrictions.
"It lifts my heart to hear that people do care," the veteran explains to News 92 FM. "Because, all too often, you feel nobody gives a damn whether you live or die."
Watch the full KHOU report: