The city of Houston, Texas is officially more concerned about the safety and dignity of trash than the city's homeless. The Houston Chronicle reports: 


James Kelly was hungry and looking for something to eat. He tried to find it in a trash bin near Houston City Hall.

For that, the man, who said he spent about nine years in the Navy but fell on hard times, was ticketed by a Houston police officer.

According to his copy of the citation, Kelly, 44, was charged on Thursday with "disturbing the contents of a garbage can in (the) downtown business district."

"I was just basically looking for something to eat," Kelly said Monday night. "I wasn't in a real good mood."

The Chronice traced the law back to 1942, when it was delightfully titled "molesting garbage containers." A 1988 rewrite expanded legal protection from molestation to recyclables, and over the last 2 decades it's become increasingly restrictive as municipalities have become more and more committed to purging the homeless from city centers. 

How come Kelly had to dig through the trash for food, aren't there groups that feed the needy? Maybe he just likes trash food so much he was willing to break the law to get some? Actually, if there were charitable organizations feeding the homeless that night, they would have been harder to find than a year ago; in 2012 the City Council instituted a feeding ban that forces organizations to get permission from the city before they can give food in public. The fine for lawbreakers is $500. 

The two laws exemplify the increasing criminalization of homelessess, which AlterNet has written about here. Here's how it works: instead of spending money on social programs, cities spend way more money harrassing, fining, and jailing the homeless, in the hope that they'll magically disappear. Cities continue to do this, despite the fact that investing in social programs ends up being cheaper AND more effective in the long run. Unfortuately, many of these programs are at a disadvantage because they conflict with the conservative narrative that everything is the fault the poor because they lack the strong moral character of America's wealthy. 

Usually, when police are trying to boot a homeless person from a particular neighborhood, they're supposed to refer them to a shelter. But why don't all homeless people go to shelters anyway, instead of sleeping on the sidewalk, depressing you with their poorness? It's because in addition to the shortage of shelter beds in a lot of cities (or the non-existance of shelters in some) overnight shelters are often fucking horrifying. 

Renee Miller, a Tallahassee woman who works with a Christian group that helps the homeless, went undercover to check out a local shelter after hearing reports of abuse. She claims that immediately upon arrival she was sexually propositioned by a staff member:

He said, "Okay, well here is my number. Call me and we can hook up later tonight."

Did I just get propositioned by a staff member? I was infuriated but did not want to break my cover.

I answered, "Nah, man, I just need some food and some sleep."

"You don't want to sleep in there. It's dangerous. You can come sleep at my place. We can stop at McDonald's."

Seriously, a staff member - a person with some authority - was propositioning me - no, better yet, PREYING on a woman he KNOWS is in a vulnerable situation. A woman comes to The Shelter to escape the insecurity of the streets, not to be thrown to the wolves. Now I know why he let me stay and kicked the older woman out. He didn't want to get in her pants.

I wanted to stall him so I asked for a drink of water. He came back with his own half-drank bottled water for me.

He propositioned me again. He said, "It's not safe in there for women. You are better off coming home with me. I get off at 11:45. Just meet me in that parking lot over there."

I wanted him to leave me alone so I told him I would go with him later.

He asked me to be discreet and don't tell anyone I was going.

Eventually, she got so creeped out by the staffer that she called police to safely escort her out, she says.
Somehow, the predatory staffer manages to not be the most awful part of the story. She also writes that women she talked to say they've traded sexual favors just to get their laundry done. They describe being yelled at and berated in front of their kids, and say staffers have delightful nicknames for them like "fat ass" and "heifer." The women also claimed that if they stand up to abusive staffers, they threaten to ban them from the shelter and then call child services to have their kids taken away. There are, naturally, bed bugs. Read the whole thing in full. reports that the shelter has launched an investigation, but it seems like it's mostly focused on discipling the staffer who allegedly sexually propositioned Miller.