Trying to feed the homeless? Not so fast! Meanwhile, METRO blows $80K congratulating itself.
Our Own Professor Gates Incident
In Houston, it features the homeless
By Mike Giglio
It is not against the law to feed the homeless. Nor does this require a permit.
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Deputy T. McGilbray of the Harris County Sheriff's Office was apparently unaware of this during a recent patrol, when he interrupted a local church group's weekly Sunday afternoon homeless outreach in James Bute Park, demanded a "permit to serve food in the park," and then handcuffed and detained one homeless man and one church volunteer who questioned what he was doing.
Tom Berna was in the park, which is often crowded with the homeless, with about ten other members of Ecclesia Church when the officer approached.
"He said we're not allowed to feed homeless people," Berna says.
One of the homeless men nearby, identified in McGilbray's report as Bennie Sorrels, asked the officer which ordinance was being violated, according to Berna and other church members. They say the officer refused to answer and, after being asked a few more times, put the man in the back of his car and began searching his belongings.
(In his report, McGilbray calls Sorrels "belligerent" and says he was detained for refusing to leave the park when asked.)
Berna began snapping pictures of the scene with his iPhone. At this, the officer demanded Berna's identification. Berna asked whether this was required (it's not), but McGilbray was again evasive. After several such exchanges, Berna too was detained and placed in the car.
Angry church members eventually requested McGilbray's supervisor, who sent the deputy away. Sorrels wasn't charged in the incident, and the assistant district attorney refused to acknowledge Berna's oddly phrased citation for "fail to identify to a peace officer."
McGilbray has a reputation as an intimidator among most of the homeless in the park, according to Berna and Ecclesia member Michael Anthony Guerrie, who was also on hand.
"Everyone at my table had mentioned that this officer didn't like anyone — black, white, or anything in between," Guerrie says.
Anthony Love, president and CEO of the Coalition for the Homeless of Houston/Harris County, calls the officer's response "extreme." The sheriff's department seems to agree. Berna says he called to complain, and spoke with a very sympathetic lieutenant who encouraged the church to continue its outreach and praised its good will.
McGilbray was verbally reprimanded and reassigned, according to HCSO spokeswoman Christina Garza, who also notes that someone is only required to provide identification when under arrest.
"Deputy McGilbray just used bad judgment," she says.
Berna says he's happy with the department's response and just wants to be sure its officers will be more sensitive in the future.
"[They need] to make sure there's no more harassment of the homeless," he says. "In my opinion, an officer of the law going out there and breaking the law is no small matter at all."
Tales From Transit
Metro spends $80k saying it's great
By Richard Connelly
Last month, Metro had a big ol' ceremony to mark the groundbreaking on two new light-rail lines.
Union Station was the scene, and a life-size mock version of a light-rail train was included. To the accompaniment of music that was a lame cross between the Terminator soundtrack, the 1812 Overture and a bad '80s hair band, a curtain was dropped, confetti exploded and steam climbed dramatically as the life-size model appeared. (You can watch almost 30 minutes of the mind-numbing speeches, and the dramatic climax, on Metro's blog.)
Other, smaller ceremonies took place along the North and Southeast corridors.
How much did all this cost? About $83,000.
That's all Metro will admit to, answering an Open Records Act request for "Whatever expenditures Metro approved in regards to the July 13 ceremonies." Some costs, obviously, could be absorbed into regular budgets and not need special approval, such as some of the security provided. And if the ceremonies cost more than planned, perhaps some of those bills haven't come in yet.
The actual total approved by Metro was $82,904.26. No breakdown was provided to us, although we guess we can put in another records request and wait ten days.
Eighty-three thousand bucks seems like a whole lot of money to spend congratulating yourself, but then again we're not in the transportation business. Maybe that's how they — ha-ha!! — roll.
Help a Brother Out for Peace
Walking the world, stuck in Houston
By Blake Whitaker
Heading into work, we noticed two guys walking down Milam who we assumed were either crazy American or regular German tourists.
They looked like twins and were dressed identically, each sporting a frame backpack with a bedroll attached to the top. We didn't think much of it, until the bedroll brothers wandered into the Press's receptionist area and told us what they've been up to for the past two years.
Turns out they're neither crazy nor German. They're Hungarian brothers named Ferenc and István Ivanics, ages 32 and 27. They come from a city called Szeged, and they're attempting to walk around the world.
They've made it about a third of the way, nearly 7,000 miles in two years. (Make sure to check out their flickr photostream.) Ferenc and István trekked through Europe into Africa and across the Sahara before flying to Miami, but now their mission is in jeopardy.
First, a little background. The brothers spent part of their lives in an ethnically and culturally diverse Serbian city. Even during the 1990s when shit was getting pretty sour in the region, their town stayed tight.
"These are your neighbors, you grow with them up," Ferenc says. "You meet sugar, or drink beer, or have barbecue party with them. There was peace." ("Meet sugar" is a Serbian term, apparently, which we chose not to explore further.)
They're now trying to recapture and promote that sense of community on the road.
"We heavily believe in world peace, but in one street, in your house, in your working place," Ferenc says. "We call it micropeace. Or easier, just friendship."
Making friends is difficult, of course, when you spend the summer trudging 15-25 miles a day through the swampy, stormy Gulf Coast, sleeping in tents in church parking lots or fields. Both brothers said the giant armpit we call home is, next to the Sahara, the most geographically challenging area they've encountered.
"What you have here...you have storms in Hungary, too," István says. "But in the South, it is worse. Lightning."
(We almost told them one of Houstonians' favorite summer pastimes is bitching about walking from air-conditioned car to air-conditioned home, and vice versa, but we didn't feel like learning the Hungarian word for pussy.)
Now, they're ready to leave the United States for Mexico, and then Central America, and one and a half years later, Chile, but their equipment situation is dire.
"Our backpacks, our tents, they are practically on the dead," Ferenc says, adding that fire ants have recently been chewing holes in their temporary homes. (USA! USA!)
What's worse is they can legally stay in the states only until August 15. So for the time being, the brothers are stranded in Houston, waiting on some of the generosity that's helped them get this far.
"Who will be now the one who says, 'Okay, boys, now I will help you out'?" Ferenc says. "It's not a question about food or new clothes, it's about backpack and tent. We are very brave, but where is the line? Are we stupid? Going without tents in the tropical zone?"
Online donations and help from Hungarian groups have helped them before in tough spots, but it may be up to a Houstonian to keep the peace walk alive. A couple of days isn't a long time, but the brothers are optimistic: "We believe until the last minute."
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