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He wants to feed the homeless — and is suing his city to be able to do it

Rodney Burger, left, eats his free breakfast in a Houston churchyard as he consults with Dr. David Buck, right, president and chief medical officer for Healthcare for the Homeless-Houston, Thursday, Feb. 12, 2004, in Houston. Buck works with Project Access, a free service to give some of the city's 12,000 homeless a better chance of making needed trips to clinics, shelters and social service agencies.
Rodney Burger, left, eats his free breakfast in a Houston churchyard as he consults with Dr. David Buck, right, president and chief medical officer for Healthcare for the Homeless-Houston, Thursday, Feb. 12, 2004, in Houston. Buck works with Project Access, a free service to give some of the city's 12,000 homeless a better chance of making needed trips to clinics, shelters and social service agencies. AP

For Phillip Paul Bryant, feeding the homeless is a religious act.

The Houston man, who regularly keeps cans of tuna and water bottles in his car to hand out to homeless people, describes the action as “his exercise of the teachings of Jesus Christ,” according to the Houston Chronicle. But his hometown has a ban on feeding the homeless, because of an ordinance on sharing food in public which has been in place since 2012.

On Thursday, the Chronicle reported that Bryant is suing the city, hoping to overturn what he called in his lawsuit the “mean-spirited” ordinance.

“The homeless are people,” Bryant’s attorney Randall Kallinen said in a statement, according to the Chronicle. “Restricting the right of good Samaritans and the homeless is unconstitutional.”

When the ordinance first passed, then-Houston mayor Annise Parker said in an interview with KUHF that “making it easier for someone to stay on the streets is not humane.” The ordinance, which was stripped down from a more restrictive proposal, required that those who want to feed more than five people must first get permission from the owners of the property, according to the Chronicle.

But local and national advocates argued that such policies criminalized charity efforts and deterred helping the less fortunate.

Houston isn’t the only city in the country to have implemented a feeding ban — or been challenged for it. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, more than 26 cities implemented similar laws or regulations from 2013 to 2015, restricting how or if food can be distributed to homeless people.

Well-meaning do-gooders have run afoul of those ordinances, including a 92-year-old World War II veteran in Florida who was cited in 2014 for trying to feed the homeless plates of hot food.

Arnold Abbott was stopped by Fort Lauderdale police officers twice in one week for organizing outdoor events to feed about a hundred homeless people along with other volunteers, though his nonprofit behind the events had operated for several decades, the Sun-Sentinel reported at the time.

According to the paper, the city’s mayor Jack Seiler said shortly thereafter in a statement that the city ordinance was “not banning groups from feeding the homeless,” but instead meant to regulate how food is handed out to homeless people.

The ordinance still has not deterred people from continuing to feed the homeless in Ft. Lauderdale. Since his arrest, Abbott has continued to hand out food as part of his charity work and his criminal case has stalled as both sides try to work out a resolution, though his charity is running out of money, the local ABC affiliate reported.

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