Bobby Herring has a heart for Houston's (TX) homeless population. He and his wife, Amanda, have provided meals to the city's downtown downtrodden almost every night for the last year. On any given night, they can see 60-120 people in need of a meal. But two weeks ago, that ended. Not for lack of funds, lack of food, or lack of dedication, but because the government says they don't have the proper permit.
"We don't really know what they want, we just think that they don't want us down there feeding people," Bobby told the Houston Chronicle.
Kathy Barton, a spokeswoman for the Health and Human Services Department, told the Chronicle exactly what "they" are looking for: food that's prepared in a "certified" kitchen under the watch of a "certified" food manager. Those are the requirements for the Herring's charity, "Feed a Friend," to get the proper permit. But the Herrings are skeptical they will ever receive it because they don't have the means to meet the stipulations.
The controversy started when Houston police asked them to move from their initial location downtown to a different location. Because the new location is technically on park land, the couple was shut down for not having the permits from the city health and parks departments.
The regulations and permit are essential when it comes to the homeless, Barton told the Chronicle, because "poor people are the most vulnerable to foodborne illness and also are the least likely to have access to health care."
But the Herrings said this is something they've been doing for a year and it's never been a problem before.
"I'm just really sad," Amanda said to the Chronicle. "I can't believe for a year we were right out in the open and never had anybody tell us to leave, to stop, to tell us it was wrong. I'm blindsided with it."
The homeless outreach isn't the only ministry the Herrings are involved in. They also run an organization called Eyes on Me that reaches out to the city's youth. Bobby, who also goes by his Christian rap name Tre9, tries to reach out through hip hop. A video on YouTube reportedly shows Tre9 hosting an outing called "Hip Hop Hope Tuesdays":
Connie Boyd, president and CEO of the Coalition for the Homeless of Houston/Harris County, said she's happy the Herrings care as much as they do, but she also defended the city's ordinance.
"We absolutely need more people like them who care about this vulnerable population," Boyd told the Chronicle. "Even though their intentions are good, they ran into ordinances that are designed to protect the public. There are good reasons why they're in place."
Houston Councilwoman Wanda Adams told the Chronicle she would like to review of the law.
"I'm very passionate about what they're doing," she said. "Somebody needs to make sure our homeless people are being taken care of. ... We have to look as a city to see if there are other ways we can partner with people like this who are trying to help."
In the meantime, the Herrings might try to find a church that already has a permit, or find another location downtown that may not require it.