David Hitchcock, a lanky, crop-haired 21-year-old who had recently been homeless and had just shaved his legs for fun (he was drunk and bored), sat cross-legged at the edge of a circle of people. In the group were about a half-dozen of his fellow Food Not Bombs members and three of the homeless men who'd joined them for dinner. Hitchcock's dog, Whisper, leaned against him in his lap. Another dog, a friendly pit bull named Bruise, squirmed on his back at the end of a leash, held loosely by Will Berger, who was hunched low with his wild-haired head above his feet.

Next to Berger was Haylee Becker, 19, a small girl with brown hair pulled back in a ponytail. She wore a Bob Marley T-shirt with worn-in, rolled-up jeans, canvas shoes, and a blue bandanna tied above her forehead. She apparently enjoyed leg-shaving less than Hitchcock did. A shakily drawn tattoo on her ankle, which has been noticed by more than one reporter on the homelessness beat, reads "Teach/Learn/Respect/Peace."

She was explaining the hand signals.

Food Not Bombs chapters are run by "consensus meetings" like this. Everyone present should speak one at a time, without interrupting.

"One person will be the moderator, and they'll look for the signals," Becker explained. "If you have something to say, raise your hand." She raised her hand. "If you have something quick to add, do this." She made her hands into two little guns, and fired them off in alternating succession, close to her chest.

"If you think the conversation is going off topic..." She stuck her index fingers and thumbs together in a diamond shape. "If you want someone to speak up..." Palms up, lifting motion. "And if you agree with what someone's saying, do this." Palms face the body, fingers spread, wiggle the fingers. "Kind of like jazz hands."

"Sparkle fingers," someone else called it.

"So who wants to be moderator?"

Hitchcock volunteered. The group went clockwise around the circle, each person suggesting topics for discussion: an upcoming remembrance of Hiroshima Day, an anarcha-feminist workshop, a regional Food Not Bombs event in Fort Myers. Then Hitchcock chose people to speak.

"But first, congratulations to Haylee for getting her braces off," he said.

Becker smiled, her teeth straight and white, and did the sparkle fingers.

One of the homeless men, Joe, tall and flushed, had been flirting back and forth with Becker during the meal, dancing to music on his headphones, telling her over and over again, "I love you." Grinning, she had said she loved him too. "I really love you." I really love you, she said. Now he kept raising his hand to volunteer new items of conversation, often getting the "off-topic" signal from members of the group. He offered paint for the Hiroshima Day protest signs: "My dad gets his paint from Sherwin-Williams. I know some people. I drink beers behind there."

"You've drunk beers behind everywhere," one of the other men said.

Despite the effects of warm food and balmy afternoons, Stranahan Park can be uncomfortable for the people who try to spend the day, much less the night, there. In early 2011, Fort Lauderdale police erected a mobile "Skywatch" unit, a crane-like machine with a booth and cameras on top, in the half-block park. Soon, people were napping, reading, or talking right below the wheels of the surveillance tower. It sat there for months but was removed early this summer. Fort Lauderdale police will not comment on whether somebody was ever inside the tower or how much video was recorded, citing an exemption in the Florida public-records law for information about "surveillance techniques."

Food Not Bombs hasn't been hassled by police during sharings, at least not in the recent past. Neither have Myriam and Mary Elizabeth Holly, two Christian women from Hollywood who gather and cook food under the name "His Caring Hands." They arrived shortly after this week's Food Not Bombs meal to pass out jerk chicken and potatoes in square styrofoam containers.

Robin Martin is an organizer of HOPE South Florida, a coalition of local churches that's trying to work with the city to establish a fixed location to feed the homeless. He says that HOPE's affiliate churches work with soup kitchens rather than organize open-air feedings. But he's sympathetic with the people, Christian or not, who come to the park. "It's not the sharing of food that is most important," he says. "It's the building of community."

Martin shares a waste-not ethos with Food Not Bombs: "There is enough food. We don't have a food problem with the homeless. We have a distribution problem." He notes that establishing a connection between volunteers and the homeless is the only meaningful way to instill any change beyond the filling of stomachs. He paraphrases Jesus' command to his followers: "After I leave, share communion. Share coffee."

Besides Food Not Bombs and an assortment of individuals and small ministries, few organizations in Fort Lauderdale provide food in public. The majority of homeless people looking for food eat at soup kitchens and shelters. Feeding South Florida, a supplier of 800 regional food banks, reports a 39 percent increase in need for food assistance over the past two years.

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46 comments
FQS9000
FQS9000

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.

WorkingGuy
WorkingGuy

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?

 

KennyPowersII
KennyPowersII

Would they arrest protesters if their signs read "Bombs not Food"? My guess would be no.

Bukkler
Bukkler

"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.

Ray Del Papa
Ray Del Papa

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!

WorkingGuy
WorkingGuy

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. 

Shaktas Na
Shaktas Na

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. 

Bebep
Bebep

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.

Shaktas Na
Shaktas Na

Why don't you people actually contact a person at FNB and find out what other associations they work with? Every FNB is affiliated with skills and training programs.

Bebep
Bebep

Oh my god a typo!!!!! This is ridiculous!!!! That makes this article completely false and misleading!!!!

You're a disbursed douchebag Bukkler!

Stefan Kamph
Stefan Kamph

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.

WorkingGuy
WorkingGuy

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... 

KennyPowersII
KennyPowersII

Suppose you become JoblessGuy? Somebody else's neighborhood is somebody else's neighborhood.

nanook5
nanook5

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.

nanook5
nanook5

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.

 
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