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."
Houston city officials referred questions about the citation to the Houston Police Department.
HPD issued a short statement: "The ordinance is specific to the Central Business District. It is a violation for anyone to remove any contents of any bin, bag or other container that has been placed for collection of garbage, trash or recyclable materials. An officer has probable cause to issue such a citation when a person is seen opening a lid and rummaging through contents of a dumpster or trash can."
But, in a later email, Houston city officials said a charitable food service event was happening at James Bute Park in downtown Houston at the same time Kelly was being issued the citation.
Kelly's supporters said the charge against him is a result of the city's efforts last year to regulate feeding Houston's homeless population.
"Now, when they try to feed themselves anyway possible, they make that a crime as well," said Houston attorney Randall Kallinen, who is representing Kelly.
"It's crazy to have a law where you can't look through things that are being discarded," Kallinen said. "People are always looking for cans and so forth — that's part of recycling."
Kelly said he spent three years as a Navy hospital corpsman attached to a Marine Corps rifle company in Camp Pendleton, Calif., and six more years in the fleet based in San Diego.
Kelly said he left the service in about 1990 as a Petty Officer Second Class. He was almost halfway to receiving a full 20-year pension.
"I kick myself in the posterior for ever getting out. If I had known what I know now, I would have stayed in and gotten my retirement," he said.
Kelly said he's also having problems applying with the Veterans Administration because he doesn't have the necessary identification.
Kelly's military service could not be independently verified late Monday.
Kelly, originally from northwest Tennessee, said he's only been in Houston for a "short while."
"I didn't plan on landing here," he said Monday. "I'm trying to get to California where my daughter lives."
Later Monday, Kallinen said groups had been reaching out to try and help Kelly. "It lifts my heart to hear that people do care. All too often, you feel nobody gives a damn whether you live or die," Kelly said.
Even with the recent spate of publicity about his case, Kelly said his living arrangements in Houston were still up in the air. "These people are not homeless by choice. They are homeless because there is just no place for them," Kallinen said.source