Thursday, December 20, 2007

Homeless Persons' Memorial Day: Dec. 21

Local Activist Groups to
Hold Homeless Persons
Memorial Day Observance

Dec. 20, 2007

For immediate release

Local Contact:
Ben Markeson
407.252.1379 (cell)

National Contact:
Michael Stoops
National Coalition for the Homeless,
Washington, D.C.
202.462.4822 x19

ORLANDO--A commemoration of Homeless Persons' Memorial Day will be held Friday, Dec. 21, 7 p.m., in front of Orlando City Hall. The purpose is to honor the memory of homeless people who have died in our community during the preceding 12 months. The event will consist of a candlelight vigil, a reading of the names of our community's deceased homeless, speakers--local clergy and activists--and a "speak-out" segment during which the homeless can talk about their deceased compatriots and about what it's like to be a homeless person in the Orlando area.

This event is being sponsored by Orlando Food Not Bombs, S.T.O.P.--Stop the Ordinance Partnership, the Young Communist League (Orlando chapter) and the Orlando Progressive Alliance. In addition, the congregation of the First Vagabonds Church of God, a local homeless ministry, will attend the City Hall commemoration following their own National Homeless Persons' Memorial Day event in the Lake Lucerne neighborhood at 6 p.m.

The groups also will distribute clothing, blankets, personal hygiene items--toothbrushes, toothpaste, etc.--and food to the homeless during the event. They have either gotten the items donated from within the community or have used their own resources to purchase them.

This commemoration is being held at Orlando City Hall to remind the public and local government that the homeless are citizens and members of the community and are entitled to be treated with dignity and to have their civil rights respected. The organizers also wish to remind City officials that their punitive policies towards the homeless--such as a ban on sharing food with the homeless in public parks downtown, restrictions on panhandling and regular harassment by Orlando police--criminalize homelessness but do nothing to address its underlying causes and only serve to make life more difficult for our community's homeless population.

The organizers hope their event will highlight the City of Orlando's misplaced priorities, such as spending more than a billion dollars on sports and entertainment venues while failing to direct sufficient resources towards addressing the problems and underlying causes of homelessness in our community. These include a chronic shortgage of shelter beds for our area's homeless population, inadequate treatment options for homeless individuals suffering from alcohol and drug addiction and mental illness, failure to ensure that jobs pay living wages and to address the lack of affordable housing in our community, and the delay in establishing a homeless drop-in center, a "one-stop shop" where the homeless could obtain the help and resources they need to get off the streets permanently.

National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day has occurred on the first day of winter, December 21, since 1990. The event is sponsored by the National Coalition for the Homeless, the National Health Care for the Homeless Council, the National Consumer Advisory Board, and local groups nationwide. It is intended to bring attention to the tragedy of homelessness, and to remember our homeless friends who have paid the ultimate price for our nation’s failure, at all levels, to address the issue.

Monday, November 12, 2007

An Example of How Homelessness Can Happen

Comment: The article below is an example of one of the ways in which homelessness happens: low-income people--in this case the residents of a rooming house in Parramore--are forced out of housing that is affordable for them to make way for redevelopment--in this case a new publicly-financed arena for the Orlando Magic, a team owned by a billionaire. Often when this happens, the units lost in the community's stock of affordable housing are not replaced and the people who lived in them can't find new affordable housing, so they wind up on the streets. This doesn't have to happen, of course, but does because the powers that be usually don't give a damn about poor and marginalized people. Their concerns are doing the bidding of the wealthy, of business interests and developers and increasing the City's tax base since the more money a City government can spend the more power it has. The opportunity to raise more money is about as irresistible to government as free booze is to an alcoholic.

The City, to its apparent credit, does seem to want to make sure the residents of the rooming house don't join the ragged ranks of Central Florida's 9,000+ homeless. That is if we can believe City Attorney Mayanne Downs when she says "Our goal would be to leave each one of these residents better off than they are now." One usually doesn't expect a City Attorney to exude anything resembling compassion or concern especially in a redevelopment situation. Maybe the City is finally beginning to understand the social processes of homelessness, and figures it's easier to prevent it than to deal with it once it exists.

People, foolishly or not, usually do expect more from elected officials. City Commissioner Daisy Lynum in whose district the rooming house lies, given the chance to do the right thing--i.e., give a damn about the welfare of the low-income and marginalized people who can be found in abundance in her district--once again with her quote in the article provides plenty of ammunition to her critics and those who are, rightly in our view, cynical about politicians. Plumbing new depths of crassness, Lynum boldly (or was it just stupidly?) revealed to the
Sentinel that she really doesn't give a shit about the soon-to-be displaced residents of the rooming house. Says Ms. Lynum, who, believe it or not, once was a social worker(!) for what was then called the state Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services and later for the Orange County Public Schools: "They've had plenty of time to relocate. There's a lot of turnover of those tenants. Why would we pay to relocate someone who's been there two weeks?"

This is in keeping with Ms. Lynum's sorry record towards the
already homeless. Last year she voted for the City ordinance that essentially bans sharing food with homeless people in public parks downtown and earlier this year she voted for the ordinance that further restricts panhandling. As far as she is concerned the homeless should just starve to death, preferably someplace besides downtown Orlando.

Maybe if those rooming house residents would wise up and hire Ms. Lynum's son, Juan, as their lawyer, she would care since the City by helping them would also be putting some money in the Lynum family's pocket.

And maybe it's nothing more than a coincidence that in the 1997 District 5 City Commission race, one of Lynum's opponents was none other than Charlie Jean Salter, owner of the aforementioned rooming house. Or perhaps it's not a coincidence. Perhaps Lynum is as spiteful, petty and mean-spirited as she appears to be, perversely taking out her dislike of a political opponent on the poor African Americans who have the misfortune to live where the City wants to build a facility to provide more entertainment opportunities for affluent white people.

--Ben Markeson

Homes stand in way of arena
City, property owners fight over land that is planned for stadium

Mark Schlueb |Sentinel Staff Writer
(published) November 12, 2007

Orlando Magic fans and executives celebrated when plans for a new state-of-the-art arena got the green light, but more than three months later, the city still doesn't own all the land where the facility would be built.

Smack in the middle of where the wooden basketball floor would be laid sits a small house, a duplex and a rooming house that are owned by the last holdout in the city's attempt to buy the real estate earmarked for the arena.

"Their view is that someday that property would be worth a whole lot of money. Our view is that today it's not," City Attorney Mayanne Downs said.

If the two sides can't agree on a price by Dec. 5, Orlando officials will go to court and ask a judge to allow the city to take ownership of the land and let a jury determine a fair price later.

Complicating matters further, the house and the rooming house are occupied by as many as 15 tenants. City leaders don't want a repeat of when they built the Magic's current arena. The displacement of dozens of renters fed years of mistrust among longtime Parramore residents.

"I feel like I'm in a spot," said Robert "Sarge" Kent, who said he is one of a handful of tenants who have lived in the rooming house for at least five years. "Where am I going to go? They don't care -- they have a roof over their heads."

The city bought most of the West Church Street property from Carolina Florida Properties a year ago. That 9.4 acres tucked in the elbow of Interstate 4 and the East-West Expressway went for $35.5 million.

City officials reached an agreement with the owners of one of the last pieces of land during a recent mediation session. The owners of E Sciences Inc., an environmental-engineering firm, will be paid $3.95 million for their building, land, relocation costs and other damages. The deal, which still must be approved by the City Council, would pay attorneys an additional $446,000.

Charlie Jean Salter and her family own the last of the property, which has been in the family since 1947. It's not clear how much the Salters want for the land, though some city commissioners said the price had gotten as high as $15 million.

According to city records, the Salters' two parcels were listed for sale at $7 million each in July, a month after commissioners authorized the use of eminent-domain court proceedings to take the land if need be. But in January 2005, the lots were on the market for $1.2 million each, records show.

Attorney Richard Milian, who represents the Salters, said recent negotiations put the price substantially lower than $15 million. Still, there is still "significant ground" between the Salters' asking price and the city's offer, he said.

A court hearing has been scheduled Dec. 5 to decide whether the city has a right to take the land because it would serve a public purpose. If that happens, jurors will decide its worth.

City officials said they hope the hearing won't be necessary and that they'll reach an agreement within 10 days.

Regardless of the price paid to the Salters, city officials' plan to relocate and compensate the buildings' renters will add to the cost. Downs said the city plans to meet with each of the tenants and help them find other housing. Longtime residents will likely be compensated, she said, though no details have been decided.

"Parramore is a very important part of this administration's mission," Downs said. "Our goal would be to leave each one of these residents better off than they are now."

Commissioner Daisy Lynum, who represents the district, said the city should let the court decide a fair price. And she doesn't support the plan to compensate the tenants.

"They've had plenty of time to relocate," she said. "There's a lot of turnover of those tenants. Why would we pay to relocate someone who's been there two weeks?"

Mark Schlueb can be reached at or 407-420-5417.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Community group creates fast-food jobs for the homeless

Comment: These jobs and the 25 housing units that this community group created are a drop in the bucket compared to the need in the community. It shouldn't be overlooked that Central Florida has a homeless population estimated to number 9,000 individuals. Also, low-wage fast food jobs hardly seem like the key to self-sufficiency for the homeless. An abundance of low-wage jobs that don't pay enough to make housing affordable are part of the reason that so many people in this community are homeless. What's really necessary are systemic changes to the local economy not private charity (as commendable and well-intentioned as that may be) and Band-Aid efforts. This project seems like a way for the City of Orlando to try to whitewash its image when it comes to its policies towards the homeless. Notice that Mayor Dyer was only too eager to get a photo opportunity out of this.

Homeless are feeding the rest of us at Orlando sub shop

Mark Schlueb |Sentinel Staff Writer
(published) November 8, 2007

A year after Orlando enacted a law to stop people from feeding the homeless, the city is trying it the other way around.

Using federal money and help from the city, a nonprofit community group opened a Sobik's Subs shop last week and staffed it with workers who until recently were living on the streets or in homeless camps in the woods.

"Sobik's was the only one that had any interest in talking to us," said Helaine Blum, president of Grand Avenue Economic Community Development Corp. "This is basically the first opportunity some of these people have been given."

The project represents a shift away from the traditional method of warehousing the homeless in crowded shelters with few services. Providing training and job placement for the homeless isn't new, but launching a business that relies solely on a work force struggling with the addictions, disabilities and other problems underlying homelessness is still rare.

The Ben & Jerry's ice cream empire waived its franchise fee for shops in Harlem, N.Y., and Portland, Ore., that are run by homeless charities. There's also a pet-sitting business -- Virginia Woof Dog Daycare -- in Portland.

In Orlando, the new Sobik's at 4049 S. Orange Blossom Trail bears no outward sign that it is any different from any of the Heathrow-based chain's other sub shops. But the owner of the franchise is the Grand Avenue nonprofit, and its workers live in a former motel behind the restaurant that has been converted into housing units for people with extremely low incomes and no other place to live.

Darrell Frazier, 47, was briefly homeless before moving to the housing complex, known as Maxwell Gardens, about four months ago. He is one of the first half-dozen people to take jobs at the Sobik's.

"I was laid off from my job with a construction company and couldn't find any work. I fell behind on my rent and ended up on the street," Frazier said Wednesday. "I just want to be able to work."

The city and the Homeless Services Network helped Grand Avenue obtain $885,000 in federal funding to add 25 units at Maxwell Gardens for those with mental illness or physical disabilities. It's this population -- a particularly hard one to serve -- that Blum thinks can learn job skills through training at the sandwich shop.

Orlando gave another $200,000 from its allotment of federal community-improvement money to add the Sobik's, and the company drastically reduced its usual franchise fee.

"We felt this was a wonderful opportunity to do a good deed for the community," Sobik's president Jodi Kobrin said.

The city is a key funding source for shelters and homeless-service agencies, but Orlando has gained a national reputation as an unfriendly place for the homeless. That image has been fueled by an anti-panhandling law and last year's restrictions on feeding the homeless in city parks.

"We want to look at comprehensive approaches to ending homelessness. Whether it's working here or getting job skills somewhere else, it's lifting them up and helping them to get past homelessness," said Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, who ordered a sub during the shop's official opening Wednesday.

The same day, national housing officials cited the type of transitional and permanent housing offered at Maxwell Gardens as a reason for a drop in the number of long-term homeless people across the country.

A national report released Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development showed an 11.5 percent decline in the number of people who had been homeless for a year or more in the United States, from 175,914 in 2005 to 155,623 in 2006.

The greater Orlando area, including the city, unincorporated Orange County, Osceola and Seminole counties, saw a slight reduction in chronic homelessness. It reported 1,189 long-term homeless individuals in 2006, a decrease of 70 people from the year before.

Agency spokesman Brian Sullivan attributed the decline to a shift from emergency shelters that house the homeless for a night to transitional and permanent housing. President Bush's budget would increase funding for such housing from $286 million to $1.6 billion in 2008.

The funding is meant to help people such as Sandra Parvu start the long road back to normalcy. The 48-year-old amputee, a recovering alcoholic who suffers from bipolar disorder and liver problems, moved into one of the new units at Maxwell Gardens on Tuesday after living in the woods of east Orange County for six years.

"They're going to give me support and a place to live while I get my life back together," she said. "I just want my family and life back."

Victor Ramos of the Sentinel staff contributed to this report.
Mark Schlueb can be reached at or 407-420-5417.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Study: 1 Out of 4 Homeless Are Veterans

Study: 1 Out of 4 Homeless Are Veterans

By KIMBERLY HEFLING (Associated Press Writer)

From Associated Press
November 07, 2007 11:24 PM EST

WASHINGTON - Veterans make up one in four homeless people in the United States, though they are only 11 percent of the general adult population, according to a report to be released Thursday.

And homelessness is not just a problem among middle-age and elderly veterans. Younger veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are trickling into shelters and soup kitchens seeking services, treatment or help with finding a job.

The Veterans Affairs Department has identified 1,500 homeless veterans from the current wars and says 400 of them have participated in its programs specifically targeting homelessness.

The National Alliance to End Homelessness, a public education nonprofit, based the findings of its report on numbers from Veterans Affairs and the Census Bureau. 2005 data estimated that 194,254 homeless people out of 744,313 on any given night were veterans.

In comparison, the VA says that 20 years ago, the estimated number of veterans who were homeless on any given night was 250,000.

Some advocates say the early presence of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan at shelters does not bode well for the future. It took roughly a decade for the lives of Vietnam veterans to unravel to the point that they started showing up among the homeless. Advocates worry that intense and repeated deployments leave newer veterans particularly vulnerable.

"We're going to be having a tsunami of them eventually because the mental health toll from this war is enormous," said Daniel Tooth, director of veterans affairs for Lancaster County, Pa.

While services to homeless veterans have improved in the past 20 years, advocates say more financial resources still are needed. With the spotlight on the plight of Iraq veterans, they hope more will be done to prevent homelessness and provide affordable housing to the younger veterans while there's a window of opportunity.

"When the Vietnam War ended, that was part of the problem. The war was over, it was off TV, nobody wanted to hear about it," said John Keaveney, a Vietnam veteran and a founder of New Directions in Los Angeles, which provides substance abuse help, job training and shelter to veterans.

"I think they'll be forgotten," Keaveney said of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. "People get tired of it. It's not glitzy that these are young, honorable, patriotic Americans. They'll just be veterans, and that happens after every war."

Keaveney said it's difficult for his group to persuade some homeless Iraq veterans to stay for treatment and help because they don't relate to the older veterans. Those who stayed have had success - one is now a stock broker and another is applying to be a police officer, he said.

"They see guys that are their father's age and they don't understand, they don't know, that in a couple of years they'll be looking like them," he said.

After being discharged from the military, Jason Kelley, 23, of Tomahawk, Wis., who served in Iraq with the Wisconsin National Guard, took a bus to Los Angeles looking for better job prospects and a new life.

Kelley said he couldn't find a job because he didn't have an apartment, and he couldn't get an apartment because he didn't have a job. He stayed in a $300-a-week motel until his money ran out, then moved into a shelter run by the group U.S. VETS in Inglewood, Calif. He's since been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, he said.

"The only training I have is infantry training and there's not really a need for that in the civilian world," Kelley said in a phone interview. He has enrolled in college and hopes to move out of the shelter soon.

The Iraq vets seeking help with homelessness are more likely to be women, less likely to have substance abuse problems, but more likely to have mental illness - mostly related to post-traumatic stress, said Pete Dougherty, director of homeless veterans programs at the VA.

Overall, 45 percent of participants in the VA's homeless programs have a diagnosable mental illness and more than three out of four have a substance abuse problem, while 35 percent have both, Dougherty said.

Historically, a number of fighters in U.S. wars have become homeless. In the post-Civil War era, homeless veterans sang old Army songs to dramatize their need for work and became known as "tramps," which had meant to march into war, said Todd DePastino, a historian at Penn State University's Beaver campus who wrote a book on the history of homelessness.

After World War I, thousands of veterans - many of them homeless - camped in the nation's capital seeking bonus money. Their camps were destroyed by the government, creating a public relations disaster for President Herbert Hoover.

The end of the Vietnam War coincided with a time of economic restructuring, and many of the same people who fought in Vietnam were also those most affected by the loss of manufacturing jobs, DePastino said.

Their entrance to the streets was traumatic and, as they aged, their problems became more chronic, recalled Sister Mary Scullion, who has worked with the homeless for 30 years and co-founded of the group Project H.O.M.E. in Philadelphia.

"It takes more to address the needs because they are multiple needs that have been unattended," Scullion said. "Life on the street is brutal and I know many, many homeless veterans who have died from Vietnam."

The VA started targeting homelessness in 1987, 12 years after the fall of Saigon. Today, the VA has, either on its own or through partnerships, more than 15,000 residential rehabilitative, transitional and permanent beds for homeless veterans nationwide. It spends about $265 million annually on homeless-specific programs and about $1.5 billion for all health care costs for homeless veterans.

Because of these types of programs and because two years of free medical care is being offered to all Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, Dougherty said they hope many veterans from recent wars who are in need can be identified early.

"Clearly, I don't think that's going to totally solve the problem, but I also don't think we're simply going to wait for 10 years until they show up," Dougherty said. "We're out there now trying to get everybody we can to get those kinds of services today, so we avoid this kind of problem in the future."

In all of 2006, the National Alliance to End Homelessness estimates that 495,400 veterans were homeless at some point during the year.

The group recommends that 5,000 housing units be created per year for the next five years dedicated to the chronically homeless that would provide permanent housing linked to veterans' support systems. It also recommends funding an additional 20,000 housing vouchers exclusively for homeless veterans, and creating a program that helps bridge the gap between income and rent.

Following those recommendations would cost billions of dollars, but there is some movement in Congress to increase the amount of money dedicated to homeless veterans programs.

On a recent day in Philadelphia, case managers from Project H.O.M.E. and the VA picked up William Joyce, 60, a homeless Vietnam veteran in a wheelchair who said he'd been sleeping at a bus terminal.

"You're an honorable veteran. You're going to get some services," outreach worker Mark Salvatore told Joyce. "You need to be connected. You don't need to be out here on the streets."


Associated Press writer Kathy Matheson contributed to this story from Philadelphia.


On the Net: National Alliance to End Homelessness:

New Directions:

Project Home:

County of Lancaster:

Veterans Affairs Department:

U.S. Vets:

Friday, October 26, 2007

Opponent of Homeless Feeding Ban May Run for Mayor

Dyer could get competition in mayoral race

October 25, 2007

ORLANDO - A member of Orange County's Soil and Water Conservation District board announced his intention to run for mayor of Orlando late Monday.

Tim Adams -- who ran against the incumbent mayor, Buddy Dyer, in a race for state Senate in 1992 -- said in his announcement that he wants the community venues put to a public vote, and he opposes the ban on feeding the homeless at Lake Eola Park that was enacted by the Dyer administration.

Adams would seem a long-shot candidate, with the Jan. 29 election just three months away. Dyer had raised more than $350,000 in campaign contributions as of Sept. 30, reports show. Adams said he supported businessman Ken Mulvaney in the past mayoral election. Mulvaney also has said he might run again, but neither he nor Adams has yet filed papers to formally launch a candidacy.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Feeding the Hungry is a Crime

October 10, 2007

Feeding the Hungry is a Crime
City councils are cracking down on charity groups that feed the homeless without a permit

By Megan Tady

The stake-out was almost comical in its absurdity: On April 4, 2007, undercover police counted how many times Eric Montanez, a 22-year-old volunteer with Food Not Bombs, dipped a serving ladle into a pot and handed stew to hungry people.

Once Montanez had dished up 30 bowls, the police moved in, collecting a vial of the stew for evidence as they arrested him for violating an Orlando, Fla., city ordinance: feeding a large group. Two days into his trial yesterday, Montanez was acquitted by a jury of the misdemeanor charge, but was cautioned to obey the law.

As activists celebrate the verdict, the Orlando Police Department has said it will continue to ordinance, making the fight for the free flow of food in the city far from over.

"He is on trial for the crime of feeding the homeless--literally," says George Crossley, a member of the Stop the Ordinance Partnership (S.T.O.P.), an alliance of 19 advocacy groups, including Orlando branches of Code Pink, the NAACP, and the National Organization for Women.

What Crossley and others are trying to stop is a "large group feeding[s]" ordinance passed in July 2006 by the Orlando City Council that essentially bans groups from providing food to more than 25 people in downtown parks without a permit.

Under the ordinance, groups can only obtain two permits a year per park for the purpose of sharing food with a large group. Although the ordinance does not explicitly target the homeless, the guillotine falls on their heads, as they are largely the benefactors of churches, charities and activist groups serving free food in easily accessible parks.

"Eric's arrest shows both the heartlessness of Orlando towards the destitute and those who aid them," the Orlando Food Not Bombs (FNB) chapter said in a statement in April.

Just as Orlando is cracking down on free meals that make life more bearable for homeless people, so too are other cities.
This month, West Palm Beach, Fla., passed a similar ordinance that criminalizes feeding the homeless in public places, and last week officials in Cleveland, Ohio, prohibited groups from sharing food in the city's Public Square. In February, a man in Jacksonville, Fla., was given a citation for handing out food to the homeless without a permit, though it was later thrown out. And FNB says fear is spreading in Albuquerque, N.M., that city officials may pass a similar ordinance, which has long been an avenue used to force out homeless people.

Volunteers and activists are decrying the laws, calling any measure that keeps free food out of the hands of the needy inhumane.

"It's essentially saying that homeless people are not worthy of attention or respect and they’re nothing more than pigeons who should be fed some place else so they’re not a bother to mainstream society," says FNB Co-founder Keith McHenry.

McHenry says feeding the homeless is part of a larger social justice agenda.

"There's a broader principle in America that we're trying to address, and that is, food is a human right, not to be relegated to being a commodity," McHenry says. "People who are hungry in this country deserve good, nutritious food without having to go through a lot of bureaucratic hurdles to get that food, and without having to be demeaned."

As with the other city ordinances, Orlando designated a specific area away from downtown businesses where groups could offer food without a permit. But McHenry says the purpose of visibly feeding homeless people is to draw attention to the problem, and that FNB rejects hiding a situation that the city refuses to confront compassionately.

"They say, 'If you want to feed people, why don't you do it out of sight?'" McHenry says. "That's not our goal. Our goal is... to change society."

The designated area in Orlando, however, is gated and groups must notify the authorities to unlock the space before every food sharing.

Brian Davis, director of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, says Cleveland police notified the group on October 3 that groups and churches could no longer provide food in the Public Square because of health hazards. Davis was told the city had discovered rat holes at the park. The Cleveland City Council did not return calls seeking comment.

According to a recent blog post by Davis, "The Chief of Police and the entire command staff stopped a group from unloading their food on the Square. Then they tried to move to another park and that did not work because law enforcement stopped them. The group was told that if they unload that they would be arrested."

The groups were also given an alternate site for food sharing, but Davis told In These Times, "It couldn't be a worse place to go."

Shawn, an FNB volunteer in Cleveland reluctant to give his last name, says the regulation on feedings in the park is taking a toll. "What [the ordinance] has accomplished is probably diminished the amount of people getting fed when you're forced to move to a location that's too far for people to walk to," he says.

Shawn says FNB would return to serving food in the Public Square. "It hasn't stopped us," he says. "There should be no law against feeding people."

But feeding people, says McHenry, is bad for business. As tables of free food attract a larger than usual number of homeless people to city parks, nearby businesses fear their revenue streams may suffer.

"[Business owners] believe that people won't shop in those neighborhoods. They're not attractive," McHenry says.

He also says cities fear the presence of readily available food will bring more homeless people into their community, and "they'll have to raise tax money to provide affordable housing and public assistance and shelters."

Heather Allebaugh, constituent correspondent for the City of Orlando, says the city council enacted the ordinance in response to "complaints from residents and businesses immediately following the feedings of activity and drug use around the area."

Allebaugh also says the ordinance was designed to help maintain the parks. "It's a balance between the residents and their safety when they come to the park when the feedings are taking place," she says.

In response to criticisms that an ordinance curtailing the availability of free food is inhumane, Allebaugh says the measure is "not a ban, but a regulation."

"It's just about maintaining a regulation just as we do for parades and garage sales so we have an idea of what’s happening at public parks," Allebaugh says. "Maybe there's extra security needed for the people attending. Maybe they need extra trash receptacles. It's just to help us manage events that are happening within our city. I don’t think it was targeted at any group. It was more about the proper location to feed, rather than whether to ban feeding."

The city did not enact any provisions to feed the homeless people who relied on the routinely accessible free food. Allebaugh says such services do not fall within the jurisdiction of the city.

The crackdown on food sharings follows other policies designed to penalize and ostracize homeless people. Orlando's estimated 9,000 homeless people are subject to laws that prevent them from lying on benches and from panhandling during certain hours. Cleveland recently enacted a law that sets a 10 pm curfew at the city's Public Square, intending to stop people from sleeping in the park.

"[The City Council] is brutal about this," says Crossley of S.T.O.P. "This is not a game to these people. They're not trying to find a solution to why these people are out there."

Allebaugh count[er]s, however, that the Council is addressing homelessness through a regional commission expected to issue "findings and suggestions" in February on how to "address homelessness and hopefully come up with a 10-year plan to end homelessness."

The harsh treatment of homeless people also comes as the number of displaced people rises. On Monday, the Associated Press reported that there are an estimated 750,000 homeless people in the United States, although the figure is difficult to pinpoint.

"The criminalization of homeless people shows that there's no political will by our society to deal with the crisis in a humane and logical way," McHenry says. "The reality is that homeless people are regular Americans who lost their jobs due to all the different policies that are happening, like outsourcing, and the huge redirection of our infrastructure toward the military and away from things like education and health care."

Despite the ordinances, and the recent arrest of Montanez, activists are refusing to back down. Coinciding with Montanez’ trial, Orlando FNB has been holding a three-day event [Lake Eola Ladle Fest] with multiple food sharings that violate the ordinance. Crossley says more than 100 people were served breakfast on Monday. As of press time, no other arrests have been made.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, representing the First Vagabonds Church of God and FNB, filed suit against the Council last October, calling the ordinance unconstitutional. In 2006, a federal court judge issued an injunction on a Las Vegas measure that prohibited "providing food or meals to the indigent for free or for a nominal fee."

McHenry says he thinks the ordinances will spur a new wave of activism. "People are already going to Orlando to risk arrest because they're so outraged," he says.

Crossley says volunteers already in Orlando have no plans to back down.

"Are we going to keep the fight up? You bet," he says. "There's not going to be any give on the part of the progressive community. The only way that S.T.O.P. would disband would be if the ordinance was repealed or defeated."

Megan Tady is a National Political Reporter for Previously, she worked as a reporter for the NewStandard, where she published nearly 100 articles in one year. Megan has also written for Clamor, CommonDreams, E Magazine, Maisonneuve, PopandPolitics, and Reuters.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Orlando: Home of Unenforceable Laws


Orlando: Home of unenforceable laws

By Dan Moffett

Palm Beach Post Editorial Writer

Sunday, September 30, 2007

A government can get full of itself from time to time and think that it can solve a complicated problem by holding a meeting and passing a new law.

Hubris and frustration form a lethal combination in the hands of power.

So it was in West Palm Beach last week, when Mayor Lois Frankel used her vote to break a deadlocked city commission and push through a new ordinance that bans the feeding of homeless people near the library and amphitheater downtown.

The law is intended to satisfy Clematis Street merchants who have complained that gatherings of homeless people are driving away business. Church groups and political activists henceforth will be prohibited from handing out food in the public places.

Before diving headfirst into what figures to be a sinkhole of constitutional quicksand, Mayor Frankel should have studied closer the experiences of her old pal Buddy Dyer, the mayor of Orlando. The two served together as ranking Democrats in the Legislature.

Mayor Dyer has one of the worst homeless problems in the state. Estimates put the population around Orlando at more than 8,000.

Last year, he heard the same complaints from business and tourism officials that Mayor Frankel is hearing. With Mayor Dyer's blessing, the Orlando city commission passed an ordinance regulating the feeding of large groups in downtown parks. Within weeks, the Central Florida ACLU filed suit in federal court arguing that the law is unconstitutional.

But forget about constitutionality for a moment. Let's look at enforcement.

In April, Orlando police actually sent a team of undercover officers to shut down a coalition of groups - antiwar activists such as [Orlando] Food Not Bombs, [Orlando] CodePink [Women for Peace] and [the] Young Communist [League] - who were trying to circumvent the law on a technicality: It prohibited feeding more than 25 people, so each group purported to serve only 24.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, plainclothes police shot photos from the bushes and counted how many ladles of vegetable stew the activists served. When the 30th homeless person walked off with a full plate, the police moved in and arrested [Eric Montanez,] a 21-year-old [member of Orlando Food Not Bombs] and put him in jail.

Then police collected a vial of the stew as evidence. It wasn't exactly the kind of duty they had in mind back when they entered the academy.

But the city has all sorts of homeless laws that must be enforced.

It is illegal to be caught in a horizontal position on a park bench in Orlando. Bathing or shaving in a public restroom is prohibited. It is illegal to wash clothes in the downtown park. And don't even think about sleeping in the shrubs and bushes.

Panhandling has been a chronic problem, and Orlando has tried all sorts of laws to restrict it after the courts rejected an outright ban - including issuing ID cards to panhandlers, limiting them to daytime hours, and, seven years ago, restricting beggars to 36, 3-by-15-foot blue squares painted on downtown sidewalks.

Now, how well do you think that blue-square idea has worked?

Orlando has proved conclusively that government cannot solve the homeless problem by writing new laws. Ask the city police who have to enforce them or the city attorneys who have to defend them in court. Or, ask the downtown merchants who see no improvements and still are complaining.

The best chance government has of making gains against this complex social problem is to work harder with charitable groups who do not come with political or overtly religious agendas - groups that want to help chronically homeless people with their underlying physical, mental and substance-abuse problems.

In West Palm Beach, that means the United Way, the Salvation Army, the Lord's Place and dozens of churches that provide services to poor people for the right reasons.

Mayor Frankel has her new ordinance. Soon, she will have the new problems that go with it. Orlando knows what's coming.