Houston Health Department

Charitable Feeding

In the spring of 2012, the Houston City Council approved an ordinance establishing a voluntary program to coordinate outdoor food service operations for the homeless. The intent of the ordinance was three pronged:
  • to improve the quality, quantity and distribution of food provided outdoors;
  • to expand the opportunities for the homeless to connect with service providers; and
  • to reduce the disproportionate environmental impact of food service operations on public and private property.
The program consists of four basic steps:
  • Registration of the formal or informal food service organization. Registration includes contact information, proposed schedule, location and proposed food to be served.
  • Free food handling training for one or more members of the food service group provided by the Houston Health Department. The training also includes information from the Coalition for the Homeless about working with the homeless and referral information for additional services needed by the homeless.
  • The only mandatory step is a requirement to obtain owner consent before using either public or private property for food service of more than five people. This is required for both registered and non-registered food service operations.
  • Coordination of location and times of food service to maximize the distribution of food throughout the week.
The ordinance was the result of months of discussion among various city departments, homeless service agencies, law enforcement, homeless food service organizations and private property owners and managers.
Important Links

Frequently Asked Questions:

Why does Houston want to register charitable food service of the homeless?
First and foremost, the city wants to ensure that homeless individuals have sufficient wholesome food to meet their needs. Because of the previous lack of coordination, too much food was distributed on weekend mornings to certain locations over-serving a group of people while no food was available at other times of the day and days of the week. Hopefully, enough organizations will register and, through coordination, we can improve the safety and availability of more food for the homeless.

Outdoor food service operations should be an additional opportunity to assist a homeless person to access services that may enable them to acquire housing, treatment, training or any other service that could improve their life.
The city also has an obligation to reduce the frequently negative aspects of outdoor food service operations such as litter, waste and congestion. Participants in the voluntary registration program commit to manage their litter, and coordination will expand the availability of food delivery locations.

Do I have to participate in the voluntary program if on private property?
Food service activity conducted on one’s own property is not covered by the ordinance. There is no penalty for food service operations outside of the voluntary registration program.

Does anyone support this ordinance?
Yes. Participants have been surprised to learn in some cases their food service activities were being duplicated and their food was being discarded by the homeless. Organizations attending the food service training classes report that they never realized how complicated the problem of homelessness was and they are grateful for the training about food and services. Participants have also recognized that the opportunities to provide food are not restricted to downtown; their services are also needed in other areas of the city and county. Organizations that conduct food service inside their facilities appreciate the coordination of volunteers and the fact that the volunteers are more informed about referral possibilities. The homeless themselves report more confidence in the safety of the food from the registered providers. Property managers in some of the hardest affected areas of town report slight improvements since the initiation of the program July 1.

Who can I contact if I have questions about the Charitable Feeding Ordinance?
Call 832-393-5100 or Email CHS@houstontx.gov.

Food Safety Classes:

The Recognized Charitable Food Service Provider Program is a voluntary program whose goal is to attempt to provide coordination of operations to organizations that serve homeless individuals. The Coalition for the Homeless of Houston/Harris County and the Houston Health Department are collaborating on this program.

To register to attend one of the food safety classes currently offered please call the Health Department at 832.393.5100 or Email CHS@houstontx.gov. The food safety class is free of charge to food providers.

Houston Homeless Coalition :

The Coalition for the Homeless of Houston/Harris County is a private, nonprofit organization whose mission is to lead in the development and implementation of community strategies to prevent and end homelessness. In 1982 at the request of then Harris County Judge Jon Lindsey and Houston Mayor Kathryn Whitmire, the Coalition for the Homeless of Houston/Harris County (the Coalition) was founded by area homeless social services for an exploding number of people who were homeless that were emerging as a result of local economic deterioration. In 1988, the Coalition incorporated as a 501(c) 3.