Orlando, Florida, and Other “Enlightened” Cities Say, “Please Don’t Feed The Homeless.”

Or, at least not in large numbers, in downtown city parks near downtown city buildings. You know those awful homeless people, they clutter up the place and scare away the tourists. And if you feed them in city parks, you simply entice more of them to congregate there.

What happens in Orlando if you go against the city ordinance against feeding more than twenty-five homeless people at a time in a public park?

You go to jail. Go directly to jail, do not pass “Go,” do not collect two hundred dollars.

What do I think about this state of affairs?

I think that this law, and others like it are not only unjust, but immoral and downright un-American.

I’m also damned glad I don’t live in Florida, where it’s not only illegal to feed the poor, but whose governor just signed the most ridiculous law in the world, which bans wearing of baggy pants that show your underwear in public schools. You know, if I lived in Florida and was in the government, I might be more worried about the 10.8 percent unemployment rate and might be looking at legislation on a local and state level to do something about that instead of punishing altruism toward the impoverished and kids wearing baggy pants. But you see why I’m not a public official–I’m a compassionate, logical person who understands that it’s more important for people to have food in their bellies and jobs than pants that are pulled up to their armpits.

Yeah, get ready folks, I’m on a tear here. If you can’t abide a liberal looking at injustice and crying foul, then I highly suggest you just skip today’s post, because I am gonna call out the truth on people who pass laws like this. And it just might get you a little steamed.

So consider yourselves given fair warning.

So, what’s gotten me all riled up then?

Well, it seems that several cities around our once fair nation, confronted by the results of our flailing economy, which includes an influx of jobless and homeless people, have decided to wage war not only on these relatively helpless individuals, but also on those who would extend charity to them.

According to a report from CBS news in 2007, cities such as Dallas, Texas, Fort Myers, Fla., Gainesville, Fla., Wilmington, N.C., and Atlanta, George all have passed laws restricting or outright prohibiting the feeding of the homeless. Another law in Fairfax County, Va., prohibits the distribution of homemade meals and meals made in church kitchens to the homeless unless first approved by the county. This insidious law is said to be “protecting the homeless” from unsafe food, but really, it is restricting a citizen’s right to care for other citizens.

Las Vegas went even further by banning the giving of food to even ONE indigent person in any city park!

As you can see from the date of the above cited report, this war against the homeless in the US is not new. It’s been going on for years now, so why am I just now getting hot under the collar?

Because I just happened to read this news story published yesterday about three members of Food Not Bombs arrested in Orlando yesterday for violating the unjust law banning the feeding of over 25 homeless people at a time in the city park without a permit. Permits are only given to any group for two feeding days a year. TWO feeding days a year.

So, I guess for the rest of the 363 days, those homeless folks can just go eat cake or some such nonsense?

This law is unjust. This law goes against our rights to peacefully assemble, of free speech and freedom of religion.

This law is not only unjust it is downright immoral, and not just from a Christian perspective. It is immoral from a Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, B’hai, Hindu and Neo Pagan perspective. It is immoral from a humanist perspective. It is immoral from a just plain old human rights perspective.

Oh, hell, I’m just going to spit it out–it’s evil, plain and simple.

Punishing people for being homeless is evil, pure and simple. Sure, some people might choose to be homeless or poor, (I generally do not believe this, but there are some studies that show that some mentally ill homeless people do not accept help even when offered) but in this economy, the vast majority of people who are hungry and homeless today are because of circumstances beyond their control. Penalizing them for trying to get by the best that they can is inhumane.

Penalizing citizens who would lend a helping hand to their fellow citizens is just as shamefully cruel, unjust and goes against what I believe to be the spirit of America.

What do I think should be done about laws like this?

In addition to challenging these laws in court the way that various groups such as the ACLU is doing, I think that a tactic that was used during the Civil Rights Movement should be employed.

Have you ever heard of the Freedom Riders? They were a group of black and white men and women, primarily college students, though there were ministers and older people involved as well, who challenged segregation in public interstate bus terminals which had been outlawed in the 1960 US Supreme Court decision Boynton vs. Virginia. Even though state laws that allowed segregation of these facilities had been outlawed by this ruling, in 1961, many southern states still enforced segregation in interstate bus facilities, going against federal mandate.

On May 4, 1961, the first Freedom Ride left Washington DC and was to arrive in New Orleans by May 17th. That first group of riders never did make it to their intended destination, because in Anniston, Alabama, on May 14th, Mother’s Day, the bus was attacked by a mob. Tires were slashed, and later, the bus was firebombed. When the Freedom Riders fled the burning bus, they were physically attacked and beaten, some with pipes and cudgels. The police did nothing to stop the mob, and in fact, did not arrive–just as they had conspired with the mob–until the mob had dispersed.

More violence came in Alabama, so the original Freedom Riders stopped their action and returned home. In response, new Freedom Riders, many of them from Nashville, Tennesse and led by a young woman named Diane Nash, started another freedom ride on May 17th. More violence occurred–obviously, I am condensing the events for brevity–and in Mississippi, the Freedom Riders were arrested and jailed at the Mississippi State Penitentiary, known as “Parchman Farm.”

The response among Civil Rights activists around the country was electric.

They began coming from all across the country, riding down to Mississippi in order to be arrested for violating an unjust and illegal law. They intended to, and did, fill all the local jails in Jackson, Mississippi, and Parchman Farm, and they did, thus bringing great visibility to their cause, and eliciting public support for the Civil Rights Movement.

What I propose to the moral citizens, and especially the Christians of Orlando Florida is this–violate this unjust law, and be arrested. Fill up the jails and gum up the judicial system until the city sees how worthless their law is. Cause unrest until the law is rescinded.

Engage in civil disobedience, just like the folks from Food Not Bombs have; it worked in the past and it can work in this case.

Kudos to Food Not Bombs for their resolve to continue to violate this law, and I hope and pray that others in Orlando demonstrate the same courage and charity you show.

I don’t think I have to worry about such a ridiculous and immoral law being passed here in Athens, but if it did, I know that I would be ready, willing and able to be arrested to stop injustice from being allowed in my home city. And I know for a fact that I would not be the only one to be lining up to fill the jail and courthouse in protest of such a law. Lots of folks here in Athens would do the same, and I believe that there are lots of people in Orlando Florida who know in their hearts that this is a terrible law, and one that is beneath them as human beings, and I trust that these moral citizens will arise and fight injustice in any ways, large or small, that they can.

Maybe I’m much too trusting of humanity’s good nature in this case, but I hope not. I hope that others are just as outraged by these laws as I am, and I hope more than just a handful of activists step up to the plate to get these laws changed.


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  1. Wait, what? I LIVE in Fairfax and my son’s cub scout pack used to volunteer to pass out meals to the homeless. I’ve made hundreds of cookies that have been given out, and I can assure you, no county official has ever come and inspected my kitchen. They do work with a group that hands meals out at a local motel (that works with charities to give homeless families a place to stay) but the meals aren’t limited to the hotel guests.

    Comment by Delora — June 7, 2011 #

  2. Good all over you!

    The wave of hatred and anger in this country is staggering. The amount of vitriol directed to those down on their luck in this very difficult economy blows my mind, and seeing how it has been fostered by conservative religious groups turns my stomach.

    Comment by John Michael — June 7, 2011 #

  3. Homeless people are in horrible distress and need more than a meal. They need a safe place to stay and social services so that they can get stable, whether that means employment help, drug treatment or whatever. If social services are not provided, you end up with concentrations of homeless, often in impoverished communities, where they break into vacant properties for housing and commit property crimes (because they need the proceeds of these activities for food and shelter). Only providing food does not put these folks in contact with the long term help they need.

    I know this because I live in North Minneapolis, a community especially hard hit by the foreclosure crisis – and it wasn’t in good shape before, so laws to board buildings and discourage loitering and panhandling were imposed to protect children at bus stops more than to protect someone’s BMW. I volunteer at my local homeless shelter, give to other charities and am locally involved to help those in need, so don’t say I am insensitive. However, one thing you need to realize is that there are two sides to this coin. From anything I can tell from your blog, you live in an area where the other side of homelessness doesn’t touch you. I am glad for you. Neither you, your husband, nor your children should need to live that way.

    People in desparate circumstances will do things that they know are wrong because they see no alternative. In the cities where these bans are occurring, what are the statistics regarding burglary and mugging? Giving people food is compassionate, but longer term solutions are required, and often while homeless people don’t want to be homeless, they also are reluctant to cooperate with drug treatment, or are afraid that an abusive spouse or parent will find them, or they just think there isn’t any point because society gave up on them. Food and shelter are compelling reasons for homeless to go where they will be able to make contact with social workers who can help them in other ways.

    Instead of a ban, I would prefer to see licenses and specified hours of operation required for those who feed the homeless. That way efforts can be coordinated with social services to be available at those points.

    Comment by AKL — June 8, 2011 #

  4. This is just shameful. Thank you for bringing it to our attention. I used to house a meeting of Food Not Bombs in my kitchen in college (and gave some much needed advice on how to make soup – what are you going to do? some people really didn’t know how to cook)….and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve bought a food truck burger/snack/etc in lieu of handing someone some cash in college and law school. Not feeding the homeless doesn’t eradicate homelessness. UGH.

    Comment by Christine — June 8, 2011 #

  5. I don’t know what is going in our country. From my friends I see people who are volunteering, donating to food banks, hats being knitted for cold weather, etc. From our legislature more and more laws are being passed against the homeless, women’s issues, rules making it harder to register to vote, rolling back the laws against child labor and closing schools when education is so vital to our being competitive in the world. I don’t get it.

    Comment by Maureen — June 14, 2011 #

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