When Feeding The Homeless Runs Afoul Of The Law

Jun 13, 2015

Every Tuesday night, Joan Cheever hits the streets of San Antonio to feed the homeless. In a decade, she's rarely missed a night. But on a recent, windy Tuesday, something new happens.

The police show up.

"He says we have to have a permit," Cheever says. "We have a permit. We are a licensed nonprofit food truck."

Cheever runs a nonprofit called the Chow Train. Her food truck is licensed by the city. On this night, she has loaded the back of a pickup with catering equipment and hot meals and driven to San Antonio's Maverick Park, near a noisy downtown highway.

David Martin Davies

A San Antonio chef who was ticketed last week for feeding the homeless was back on the streets last night. But this time the police were nowhere to be found.

As the Chow Train arrived at Maverick Park in northern downtown last night – Joan Cheever and her volunteers were greeted by the hungry homeless and about 50 supports.

A candle light vigil was being held to protest the ticketing of Cheever last week by the San Antonio police for feeding the homeless out of the back of a pick-up truck and not the permitted mobile commercial kitchen where the food was cooked.

David Martin Davies

 *2:30 p.m. Post Updated to reflect comments from the City of San Antonio.

The recent citation of Joan Cheever and her Chow Train mobile food wagon by San Antonio Police, highlighted ordinances passed in many cities across the country aimed at dissuading people from assisting the poor.

The City of San Antonio maintains the ticket was due to violations to the city's Health ordinances.

The Chow Train's food truck license was expired, but Cheever says she only transported the food in the truck, and that she prepares all the food in a compliant kitchen.

David Martin Davies

Every Tuesday night for the last 10 years Joan Cheever has come to Maverick Park, in downtown San Antonio to feed the homeless. But this past Tuesday something new happened. The police showed up.

Cheever: He says we have to have a permit. We have a permit. We are a licensed non-profit food truck.

Officer Mike Marrota: Licensed by who?

Cheever: City of San Antonio.

Cheever is a certified chef and licensed food handler. She also runs a non-profit called “The Chow Train.”

Officer Marrota: So do you have the permit?

Cheever: Yeah.

It's been a week of goodbyes at the Homeless Voice in Hollywood, Fla. For nearly 13 years, this rundown, 22-room hotel operated as a homeless shelter.

On most nights, hotel manager Christine Jordan says, more than 200 homeless men and women stayed here, some sleeping on mats in the cafeteria.

"We called this the emergency level ... almost 40 people in here every night," she says. Some stayed for free and others paid on a sliding scale. "[Now], everything's gone. I can't cry anymore."