“No soup for you!”

CITY OF ORLANDO SEEKS TO MAKE IT A CRIME TO SHARE FOOD WITH HUNGRY POOR AND HOMELESS PEOPLE IN DOWNTOWN ORLANDO

From Food Not Bombs:

On Monday, June 19 the Orlando City Council will vote on a proposed
ordinance (amending Chapter 18A [Parks and Outdoor Public Assemblies] of
the code of the City of Orlando), that if passed, would effectively stop
Orlando Food Not Bombs from doing its weekly sharings of food at Lake Eola
Park in downtown Orlando. Orlando Food Not Bombs is one of hundreds of
autonomous chapters of a 25-year-old international movement of people who
gather up food that would otherwise go to waste, turn it into hot,
nutritious vegetarian and vegan meals, and share it with hungry people in
public spaces. The ordinance, which is the brainchild of Orlando City
Commissioner Patty Sheehan, would define “large group feedings” as being 15
or more people (Orlando Food Not Bombs typically shares with 50-75 people),
and would require that groups that wish to share free food with people in
public parks downtown pay for a permit from the city’s parks department.
The ordinance, however, also stipulates that a group will only be allowed
two permits in any twelve-month period, which would effectively stop
Orlando Food Not Bombs from sharing at the location it has used for more
than a year, since the group shares every week (Wednesdays, 5 p.m.)
year-round. Orlando Food Not Bombs is not the only local group that shares
food downtown; it is, however, the only group that regularly shares at Lake
Eola Park, and while the group is not mentioned by name in the ordinance,
it’s clear that it was written to target our group for the “crime” of
sharing food and for challenging power, privilege and poverty.

Downtown developers, business interests, police and Commissioner Sheehan’s
aide, Chase Smith, have seen fit to scapegoat Orlando Food Not Bombs for
“attracting” homeless people to the Thornton park area, which they claim is
the cause of certain problems. (Although not all of the people with whom we
share are homeless; some are just people having a hard time making ends
meet on low-wage jobs; and even many of the homeless work jobs obtained
through day labor pools; unfortunately, those jobs don’t pay them enough to
be able to get off the streets). They don’t seem to understand that even
without Food Not Bombs’ sharings there would still be homeless people in
downtown Orlando, including rapidly gentrifying areas around Lake Eola and
Thornton Park–areas full of expensive condos, and trendy restaurants, bars
and shops (apparently one purpose of the proposed ordinance is to spare
affluent white middle-class and upper middle-class people from being
discomforted by the sight of people far less fortunate than they are).
Homeless people are just like anyone else, they like the pleasant
surroundings of a lake and greenery along with comfortable benches on which
to sit.

The only concrete result of the proposed ordinance would be to deprive
hungry, often homeless people of food and to make their already difficult
and miserable lives more difficult and more miserable. The new ordinance
will not be any more successful at keeping the homeless out of downtown
than harassment by the Orlando Police Department, “begging zones” or any
other measure the City of Orlando has tried over the years to drive the
homeless out of Orlando and into some other community where they will
become someone else’s “problem.” Nor will the ordinance do anything to
address any of the crime, quality of life or aesthetic concerns that have
been mentioned to rationalize it. If anything the homeless are more likely
to resort to petty crimes, such as shoplifting or theft, in order to obtain
food or money for food, if the City stops them from getting meals from Food
Not Bombs. When people are hungry and desperate, legal and ethical
considerations are not foremost in their minds.

No one in Food Not Bombs wishes to romanticize the homeless or to claim
that they are all victims of an uncaring society or callous capitalism
(although those factors along with just plain bad luck do indeed explain
why a certain portion of people are homeless). Whatever the reasons that
people with whom we share may be homeless, we in Food Not Bombs firmly
believe that Food Is A Right, Not A Privilege. We feel that no one should
go hungry, especially not in a society such as ours which is characterized
by obscene wealth (along with glaring disparities in wealth) and that
wastes so much perfectly good, edible food (some of which Food Not Bombs
reclaims) despite the fact that several million people on a daily basis
don’t have enough to eat. We believe that everyone, whatever their station
in life, is entitled to respect, dignity and compassion simply because
they’re human. Just because you’re poor, homeless or having some
difficulties in life that have made you less than affluent doesn’t mean
that you deserve to be shunted off to the side, treated like a second-class
citizen by the authorities and made to feel unwelcome by a community.

We feel that everyone is entitled to use public amenities, such as city
parks, including that segment of the public that some may view as
undesirable because of their dismal economic circumstances. We also feel
that we in Food Not Bombs, who also are part of the public, have the right
to use public parks to share food with other members of the public, and we
reject as misleading and malicious any contentions that our doing so is any
way interfering with the ability of anyone else to use the park. Such
claims are part of the broader pattern of city officials and downtown
residents and business owners, who look down their noses at anyone who
isn’t an affluent yuppie, making false claims in order to justify their
snobbishness and lack of compassion and understanding. We reject the idea
that we, as members of the public, should have to ask permission of
bureaucrats and pay for the privilege of using a park, that by virtue of
our being members of the public, already belongs to us.

Well that’s nice. Instead of addressing the homeless issue as a humanitarian problem to be solved here in Orlando, let’s look at it as simply an inconvenience to the rich and something that needs to swept out of our more affluent communities.

What do homeless people want more than anything? Food, well and drugs sometimes but I imagine food is at the top of the list. Take away their free food offered by those that just want to help and what are they going to start doing? Stealing for food! Come on community leaders, I thought you were smarter than that. Surely you could have put together that little equation. Then again, developers and business owners in these areas are the ones calling the shots. Money can buy you all of the influence you need.

6 Comments so far

  1. Dawn (unregistered) on June 16th, 2006 @ 11:44 am

    This is outrageous! Besides helping these people out, they are also recycling food that would otherwise be wasted. WAKE UP FLORIDA, we cannot afford to be so wasteful of anything… this is providing a service like others — 2nd Harvest Food Bank to name one, and it needs to continue. Either that, or maybe we should have this elected official open up her home to feed them instead!! Please people!


  2. Terry Howard (unregistered) on June 16th, 2006 @ 8:31 pm

    Kind of a callous move, if you have a problem with the location of this charity work, then the very least you could do is come up with a reasonable alternative before you drive it away. At least then you would be insensitive and not just a flat out jerk.

    Something ponderous to me though, why “Food Not Bombs”? A look at their site has the following as their opening mission statement:

    “Food Not Bombs is an international grassroots movement organized along anarchist principles of egalitarianism, consensus, cooperation, autonomy, and decentralization. We share vegan and vegetarian food with hungry people in Orlando as well as protest war, poverty, the destruction of the Earth, and other forms of inequality and oppression. Meetings are held after the sharings.”

    Why politicize a soup kitchen? Why not “Food Not Starving to Death”. Anarchists principles, egalitarianism, decentralization… sounds like they just skimmed Marx and picked out some big words. I’m very pleased whenever anyone does charitable work, I do as much as I can myself, but I sense a secondary motivation here that just convolutes an otherwise worthy act.

    I give them points for linking to Wikipedia though!


  3. mwb (unregistered) on June 17th, 2006 @ 11:32 am

    Excellent graphic.

    Have just included a link to this particular post of yours within an update to my own blog post on the subject.

    Keep blogging on Fry Guy!


  4. Ben Markeson (unregistered) on June 17th, 2006 @ 3:54 pm

    Thank you for your support! Since i’m the person in our group who built and maintains our website, i would just like to point out that problems such as poverty and homelessness do not occur in a vacuum, they are inextricably linked to economic, social and political conditions, and if they are to be alleviated and even eradicated then the root causes of those conditions must be addressed. That’s the thinking behind the “mission statement.” However, even if you don’t share our perspective on certain issues, you should still be concerned about what the city is doing both on simple humanitarian grounds and because it doesn’t just affect Orlando Food Not Bombs or Orlando’s homeless population, it affects any group of citizens who may wish to use public parks for some purpose. It raises the question of to whom do the parks belong? The chosen few, with privilege and affluence, or all citizens, including those who are marginalized? Public parks are funded with taxes paid by all citizens of Orlando, including the people who participate in Orlando Food Not Bombs and who help bring free food to people on Wednesdays (contrary to what Commissioner Patty Sheehan asserted in the Orlando Sentinel, that the members of Orlando Food Not Bombs are outsiders, the majority of people involved in our group live in the city.

    BTW the sharings only last about 90 minutes, and we are in one small corner of Lake Eola Park, which is huge, at least one square mile of land i believe. The area where we are at is the picnic area, with tables and chairs, which has been set aside for people to have picnics, which is what we do. So Orlando Food Not Bombs is simply using the park facilities for the purposes for which they were expressly provided.

    Cordially,

    Ben Markeson,
    Orlando Food Not Bombs


  5. asurroca (unregistered) on June 19th, 2006 @ 5:33 pm

    Okay, so recently ritzy Thornton Park has had one too many homeless persons wander nearby, and Orlando city commissioners are trying to make them disappear for fear that (gasp!) local businesses, or worse, their customers, will actually have to see or even interact with a homeless person. God forbid!

    So, if I’m giving away free food to 15+ friends (e.g. some kind of get-together), I have to pay for a permit? I could understand having to do this if I were leasing out private property for a local gathering, but this is public land maintained by tax inflows and Sheehan and her lot are effectively our employees.

    I own property in Orlando where I shall be moving this coming August, and this affects me. While I cannot attend (I’m in Miami right now), I will definitley be firing off some e-mails.

    It’s not even just about homeless anymore, it’s about our rights to public property.


  6. Chari (unregistered) on June 21st, 2006 @ 8:45 am

    Once the food stealing starts, they’ll just lock them up in jail. That’ll get ’em off the streets…

    It’s amazing the pandering officials will do so that the affluent don’t have to see the icky underbelly of society.

    Maybe offering a city-owned location *indoors* so Food Not Bombs could share food would have been a better alternative.



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