© 2020 Texas Public Radio
Real. Reliable. Texas Public Radio.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

SA City Hall Pushing Food Safety Concerns For Homeless

David Martin Davies

There continues to be tension between the City of San Antonio and the community of non-profits that strive to serve the homeless and hungry in the city.

Last night was a Tuesday Night and that means if you want to find Chef Joan Cheever and her non-profit Chow Train head over to Maverick Park.

Credit David Martin Davies
Homeless and hungry men and women wait for Joan Cheever and the Chow Train to arrive at Maverick Park

Tonight on the menu:

“Chicken gumbo and sausage over rice with grilled okra – green beans with hollandaise sauce – a garden salad with roasted corn, goat cheese and beautiful tomatoes from the farmer’s market and ice cold watermelon,” Cheever said.

But there’s something extra to chew on; will City Hall and local compassion community continue to clash?

In April Cheever was ticketed by San Antonio police for feeding the homeless out of catering equipment from the back of her pick-up truck. Recently the charge was dropped by the city after Cheever threatened a federal lawsuit.   

Cheever’s story has become a lightning rod for critics of how San Antonio is dealing with the homeless. And yesterday the city held what it called a “Homeless Feeding Summit” Melody Woosley is the director of the City’s Department of Human Services.

Credit David Martin Davies
Volunteers for the Chow Train begin setting up for feeding the hungry at Maverick Park

“I think we’ll develop policy options that will include how to address compassionate feeding in a safe way. I don’t know if there will be a specific homeless feeding policy you know right now there isn’t. We’re focused on engaging the organizations, ensuring they can practice charitable acts but at the same time provide food in a safe manner,” said Woosley.

Lewis Williams attended the summit. Last night he was standing in line with about 50 other men waiting to get a plate of Cheever’s Gumbo. He’s been homeless off and on for about ten years and says food safety is a problem – but not with the Chow Train.

“I got salmonella poisoning at Haven For Hope from some undercooked chicken, during the four months that I spent there. But I’ve never gotten sick from Joan or from any of the other organizations that I’ve gone to that were at that meeting,” Williams said.

Williams said the Homeless Summit was an attempt by the city to do damage control after all the bad publicity that followed Cheever’s ticketing.

Credit David Martin Davies
Joan Cheever when was being ticketed by the SAPD in April 2015

Resurrection Ministries pastor Brian Wicks was also at the Homeless Feeding Summit and wonders why the city is focused on this issue which he sees is a solution looking for a problem.

“I wish they would just be honest about what the real agenda is because we don’t have a list of homeless people who have showed up at the emergency room with food illness. We feed safely. It’s really obvious that what’s it’s always been about is not the food – but the people we feed and where you don’t want them,” said Wicks.  

Bill Holler has been feeding the hunger in San Antonio for 17 years with the ministry Under the Bridge. He commends the city for making the effort to reach out to the charitable organizations.

“We’ve never had a problem. We’ve never poisoned anybody. We’re not trying to kill anybody or take all the glory for all this. We’re just trying to do a good deal, do a good deed,” said Holler.

Cheever said she accepts the reality of food safety and is willing to work with the city on that point. And she’s offering guidelines that could be codified into ordinance.

Credit David Martin Davies
Joan Cheever directing the Chow Train

“Offer food safety courses for free, no $15 permit required as a fee generator and the language was hold those classes four times a year and the certificate would be good for 24 months,” Cheever said.

Meanwhile, Cheever is taking a wait and see approach with her federal lawsuit. She says it’s an option that’s still on the table. And Cheever knows a thing or two about keeping things on the table. And in the meantime she says she’ll keep serving hot meals Tuesday nights at Maverick Park.

David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi