By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
Late one afternoon this summer in Lake Eola Park, Keith McHenry got arrested — again — for trying to serve free food in public. While his compatriots were setting up a vegan meal of vegetable stir-fry, ears of corn, and potatoes donated from a local natural-food store, McHenry was on his hands and knees, using a fat marker to outline text on a large banner: "End the Criminalization of Poverty."
Lake Eola is the crown jewel of downtown Orlando. The park's fountain shimmers at the middle of the resplendent lake. Music plays through speakers mounted out of reach, and swan boats rest in view of offices and shiny new condominiums. Nearby signs warn that it is illegal to "lie or otherwise be in a horizontal position on park benches" or to "sleep or remain in any bushes, shrubs or foliage." Not a friendly place for a man who has staked half his life on drawing attention to the barriers between the rich and the poor.
McHenry, 54, had written to the end of Criminalization when a police officer stepped up behind him with a pair of handcuffs. McHenry was used to the drill at this point: Since he helped found the international Food Not Bombs movement with an antiwar bake sale in Harvard Square in 1980, he's counted 150 arrests. "Almost every single arrest has been related to Food Not Bombs," he says. Among his guiding principles: Feed "everyone without restriction, rich or poor, stoned or sober."
Now, on Wednesday, June 1 — just as scores of homeless people were due to start streaming into the park, as they had done every week since 2005 — McHenry acquiesced as usual, going off to spend 32 hours in the Orange County jail alongside two organizers of the Orlando chapter of Food Not Bombs. They were bailed out the next day, but the following week, they returned to defy the law again and share food with 50, maybe 60 people. The police came back too. During June, 25 volunteers with Food Not Bombs would be arrested at the park (although the charges were later dropped).
The second time McHenry was arrested in Lake Eola Park, on June 22, he spent 17 days in jail. The judge, not sympathetic to his cause, called him a "professional protester."
The reason for the arrests? For years, residents near the park had complained that after the meals, homeless people dispersed into their neighborhoods. In 2008, the City Commission passed an ordinance that outlawed the serving of food to more than 25 people at a time without a permit. The ordinance stipulated that a group could serve only twice in each park. Mayor John Hugh "Buddy" Dyer said the ordinance was intended "to be fair to individual neighborhoods" by diluting the presence of homeless people in the city's open spaces.
The Orlando Food Not Bombs chapter, along with the First Vagabonds Church of God (which has a mostly homeless congregation), challenged the law in court, but a judge in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in April of this year to uphold it.
McHenry says other groups that traditionally feed the homeless — churches, nonprofits, and county-run agencies — provide only a simple palliative to those who are stuck in the routines of poverty. They assume that "there's nothing wrong with the way everything is," says McHenry, "that it's just that these individuals have failed, and now they need this food, and [the charities are] doing a good deed by serving it." But Food Not Bombs takes a less amenable stance. When its volunteers serve food, they're preaching not about Jesus but about the fact that the whole damned system that made these people homeless is broken, broken and pathetic, and that as long as "50 cents of every dollar is going to the military," as McHenry puts it, nobody should be denied the human right of sustenance in quiet complacence. Hence the banner.
In Fort Lauderdale, a scene similar to Orlando's plays out in Stranahan Park, at the exact center of the city, adjacent to the main library at Broward Boulevard and Andrews Avenue. On any given day, homeless drifters can be found catching a nap on the grass, bumming a smoke, or conversing in the shadow of commerce. Here, every Friday at 5:30 (give or take), the Fort Lauderdale chapter of Food Not Bombs shares a meal with these people under a gazebo. Other groups, mostly small ministries, also distribute food here.
But if city officials have their way, Fort Lauderdale could be the next municipality to enact an ordinance like Orlando's, banishing mass feedings from the city's parks and beaches. The City Attorney's Office is currently researching case law to try to prevent these food sharings in public and confine them to a more secluded spot, safely out of sight of homes and businesses.
An ordinance, if passed, could reshape the underground economy of free food that's a slight but well-known comfort to some of the estimated 1,600 people who spend each night on the city's streets. But putting a clean face on things isn't going to be easy. Blame it on the kids.
They sat in the grass of Stranahan Park after dinner, or a "sharing," with the sun shining low through the trees and a few conversations echoing from the gazebo. The reusable dishes had been washed in buckets and were stacked up to dry.
Eat Do-Gooder should be REQUIRED to take 5 or 6 "homeless" people home with him so they can sleep, poop, barf and stink up their own lawn. Fair is fair after all.
LOL Bukker = word police! ;)
feeding the hungry is good, but teaching them to feed themselves would be better.
Al they are doing is enabling poor to survive. This is the low hanging fruit of the poor.
its kinda like a welfare program, when you give someone something you feel good, but haven't really helped or changed the situation.
so for the FNB people, they feel good that they feed some folks for a few days... but then what happens when they stop or move on? how did you change the life of the poor?
how doing something to change the situation, like some skills training?
Um...FNB is associated with a lot of training and social programs. In Sacramento they are affiliated with Fishes and Loaves.
So research before you speak.
Like Nanook said, are you going to volunteer to teach them skills WorkingGuy?
Probably not, but if you do then you might be on to something.
"The reason for the arrests? For years, residents near the park had complained that after the meals, homeless people disbursed into their neighborhood"Christ, do you people have any journalistic standards at all? I swear, you must be of the generation that believes that if MS Word doesn't flag it, it isn't wrong. "disbursed" means "Given funds, especially previously -allocated ones." The word you're looking for is "Dispersed", which means "spread out." God, the state of web-based journalism is miserable.
Oh my god a typo!!!!! This is ridiculous!!!! That makes this article completely false and misleading!!!!
You're a disbursed douchebag Bukkler!
You're correct -- fixed. Ten judges with the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals used "disbursed" as well (http://goo.gl/X9FRv), thus the mistake. Also, chill out.
I wish we had more young people like those in FNB. To many are cought up in the miteralistic rat race. The more the disparaty betwwen rich and poor widens the more people will be put on the street. And who will help, not the goverment!
How about Linux training? what's linux you ask? A computer language a lot of phones and computers use. if you have those skills you can get a job.
smart people can still find a job. low skilled people, are competing with china for jobs.. Education is the answer.
Everyone has an opportunity to get smarter and earn good incomes.
its up to you, how you choose to live your life...
the minute enough people want to contribute to the point that full-time volunteers can afford to train homeless people on computers i'm sure we can get started.
are you intending on helping make that happen? no? ohhhh, so you're just one of a million people who criticize without actually contributing to help the problem in any way whatsoever. how surprising.
want to feed the homeless in Ft Laud? Do it at Holiday park, not Stranahan park.
The homeless are NOT harmless. They are aggressive, and swarm around cars at the light, looking for money.
this in turn deters business, and tourist from coming to downtown, taking away commerce, and lowering those that do earn money, incomes.
This is just another enabler of the homeless. want to help, teach them a skill so they can earn their own food.
Sorry, no sympathy for food not bombs.
haters gotta hate.
as usual, you're perfectly willing to ignore the central conceit of fnb - no one has to go hungry in america. we produce more than enough for everyone, and your apathy to the waste amounts to denying food to the needy.