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Archive for May, 2011

Orlando’s Food-Sharing Ordinance

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Advocacy, Awareness, Civil Rights, Food Sharing

Federal Appeals Court Ends Food Fight in Orlando in First Vagabonds Church of God v. City of Orlando

On April 12, 2011, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit upheld the City of Orlando’s ordinance limiting public food-sharing in parks to twice-yearly.

Food-Sharing in Orlando

In 2005, Food Not Bombs, a group that shares food with low income and homeless residents, recognized the need for food-sharing in the City of Orlando. The organization began to offer a weekly meal at Lake Eola Park in Downtown Orlando.

Approximately 50-120 people attended the food-sharing each week.  In 2008, they increased the food-sharings to twice weekly. The First Vagabonds Church of God began providing weekly meals at the park as well. People who lived in the neighborhoods surrounding the park complained to officials that these food-sharings were making the park less accessible to others.

The Ordinance, the Lawsuit and the Appeal

In 2006, the City Council, encouraged by the complaints of some neighbors, passed an ordinance that restricted public food-sharing. The ordinance required that organizations must obtain a permit to food-share with more than 25 people in a park. Only two permits would be available per park per year. This ordinance would require organizations like Food Not Bombs and First Vagabonds Church of God to obtain permits for multiple parks in order to continue with their food-sharings, which would require the groups to constantly move the weekly event.

In October of 2008, Food Not Bombs, First Vagabonds Church of God, and other individuals, filed a lawsuit against the City of Orlando on behalf of the food-sharing organizations and individuals. The lawsuit argued that the city’s ordinance violated several First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of the food-sharing organizations, as well as violating the Florida Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The federal district court found the law to be unconstitutional as an infringement on the parties’ rights to free speech and the free exercise of religion, but the city appealed the decision to the Eleventh Circuit.

In April of 2011, the Court of Appeals ruled in a unanimous decision to uphold the city limit of twice-yearly food-sharings in public parks. The court stated that the ordinance is not unconstitutionally restricting any party’s First Amendment rights, finding the ordinance to be “a reasonable time, place, or manner restriction” that does not impose any invalid regulation on expressive conduct. The decision relied upon the 1984 decision Clark v. Community For Creative Non-Violence , in which the Supreme Court upheld the U.S. Park Service’s ability to restrict protestors from sleeping in tents in Lafayette Park and the National Mall in Washington, DC.

The bulk of the legal assistance to the food-sharing groups and individuals was provided by Legal Advocacy at Work, a grassroots, non-profit law firm in Orlando.  The American Civil Liberties Union also assisted with the litigation.

Looking Forward

After the decision, food-sharing groups can only serve meals in the specified parks twice a year. Parties caught without a permit could be convicted of violating the city ordinance. Individuals or groups could be fined $500 or spend two months in jail if they continued to distribute weekly meals. In order to provide more than two meals a year, organizations will have to visit other parks and repeatedly change location. Consequently, the population served by the food-sharing will likely find it more difficult to ascertain the location of the next food-sharing event, which may reduce the number of people who can benefit from such programs. Food Not Bombs and the other parties are currently exploring possible next steps, including the possibility of pursuing review at the U.S. Supreme Court.

What Their Stories Can Teach Us

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Speakers' Bureau

The following piece is a speech that was presented by a participant of the Faces of Homelessness Speakers’ Bureau after her trip to Washington, DC:

Someone once said, “Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood.”

Before DC, my Faces of Homelessness Speakersclassmates and I were just like everyone else, we feared what we did not understand and therefore we did our best to avoid it. We go about our lives ignoring the bad, because we believe it cannot happen to us, but honestly, I don’t think any of us truly believe that.

It is crazy how one moment can alter your entire outlook on life, making you realize that up until that moment, you had not understood life itself. After a day of lobbying in DC, we went to the Thurgood Marshall Community Center to hear a program on homelessness. We would be hearing stories from people who had once been homeless and were now sharing there stories with others.

As a normal teenager, I was thinking, “This is gonna be boring, hopefully I will be able to take a nap.” But, from the moment the first man opened his mouth to speak, I was hooked, and by the end of the program, I found myself in tears. Whether they were tears of sorrow for those people and what they went through, or tears of my guilt in feeling so unaware of what is going on in the world, I knew from that moment I had to help. I know my classmates had that same feeling too. As we walked out of the building to the metro, there was a homeless man sitting on the steps of a restaurant, I opened my wallet along with my other classmates, and put in a dollar. The look on his face was priceless, and from then on, the rest of the trip we all decided to help the homeless, not only by giving them money, but most importantly, by letting them know we cared.

On our last night in DC, about five of my classmates and I along with Rabbi Ed wanted to do one last thing. After dinner, we walked over the pharmacy and bought packs of goldfish, granola bars and Koolaid. We each chipped in about two dollars, and with that we were on our way.

We were on a search to find those people in need, the ones who get ignored on the streets, the ones who are looked at and thought of as lazy and dumb. We were on a mission, that mission was to find those people, and not just to give them the food we had bought, but to make them feel like they weren’t alone in this world, and to let them know there were still people who cared and wanted to help them.

From DC I learned a lot, but I never thought I would view homeless people to be an inspiration. Each morning they awake to nothing, looking for somewhere to go, for food to eat, and shelter for warmth. These challenges all arise to them before we even awake in the morning. We go about our days complaining about our gross school lunches, our lack of sleep, our loads of homework, and much more. But, we never stop to think of how amazing our lives are, and how we should thank our parents for everything they do for us, and how in one moment all of that can be gone. We could have everything taken away from us at any time, our family, friends, house, school. But no, we don’t think about those things. Why you might ask? Because we don’t believe it could ever happen to us. Until now.

So I would like to thank my parents, friends, and Rabbi, for helping me open my eyes to the real world that surrounds me. And lastly, thank you DC, without you I would still be in fear of what I did not understand, but now that I understand it, life seems to mean all the more.

-Jamie Goodman
John Burroughs School

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