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The District’s Dizzy With the Heat

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Advocacy, Awareness

“At what temperature are cooling centers required to be opened?” A homeless woman from the District asks one of my colleagues early Tuesday morning, with temperatures forecast to be near the century mark. A quick Google search and I was at the D.C. government’s website: It says in extreme heat, avoid encountering heat stroke, dehydration, and other medical problems associated with extreme temperatures. Cooling centers will be open at four government buildings… If temperatures hit or exceed 95F, cooling centers and select (8) homeless shelters will be available from noon until 6pm. Got it, easy enough!

Question answered? Not in the District. The answer turns out to be more complicated. Let’s check the hotline listed on DC.gov “311 – The District’s Service Request Center”.  It says, cooling centers aren’t open today. However, when I call the D.C. Emergency Management number, also provided on the DC.gov website, I’m told that cooling centers no longer exist, as of last month. Another colleague calls Tommy Wells’ office, at the D.C. City Council, to find out what’s what. No specific answer, but a commitment to contact the Committee on Human Services. They’re the ones who said that cooling centers do in fact exist, listing four government buildings as de facto centers.

With too much conflicting information, I call back the D.C. Emergency Management number and speak to an assistant to the Director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. He says cooling centers no longer exist, but that people can go into public buildings and use the water fountains. The director called a little later with a “clarifying” follow up call. She explained that the Office on Aging, D.C. public libraries, and the Department on Parks and Recreation have teamed up to provide relief from the heat. But unfortunately, cooling centers no longer exist and water stations, in public building marked as cooling centers, were closed. Too many government employees were taking all the bottled water. Seriously? Seriously!

During the past few hours, The District removed incorrect information about the four government buildings that were not cooling centers – good start. But, the website still provides incorrect information: the description of heat relief services is wrong, select homeless shelters, listed as emergency centers, are closed or do not provide heat relief. This remains a totally unacceptable level of response. This summer has not even begun and we’re already facing dangerous heat conditions. Let’s not let the warning, provided by this recent experience, go unheeded and hope that this is not a sign of things to come.

To see the D.C. Government page on extreme heat, visit www.dcema.dc.gov, and click on “Extreme Heat” on the left-hand sidebar.

Laura Epstein, Staff

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.

Sympathy for Delicious Brings it Home: An Advocate’s Perspective

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Advocacy, Awareness, Poverty

In the season of Passover and Easter, I feel obliged to take a more thoughtful approach to reviewing Sympathy for Delicious (SfD) than merely saying whether I liked the film or not. SfD chronicles the life of a newly paralyzed DJ, “Delicious” Dean (Christopher Thornton, also the film’s writer), who discovers that he has the gift to heal others, but not himself. Left to his own devices, this homeless practitioner would most likely have chosen a life of the truly forgotten, America’s chronically homeless. But, SfD has much more in store for the healer, the healed and the heels of skid row.

Enter the encouraging street outreach priest (Mark Ruffalo, also the film’s director) who tries to convince the DJ to use his new found powers for good, the struggling rock star (Orlando Bloom) who sees money and fame in all things and the arrant agent (Laura Linney) with the muscle memory of a Shakespearean temptress.

Thorton does an extraordinary job as the conflicted Delicious. Off screen, at the age of twenty five, the actor sustained a spinal injury in a rock climbing fall that left him paralyzed from the waist down. So in a wrenching scene where the DJ literally faces a work table too high to use and a worker’s unwillingness to make any reasonable accommodation, Thornton’s rage seems all too real.

SfD succeeds as much for what it is as for what it isn’t. Considering that SfD is about faith, its impressive that the film avoids being exploitative, preachy or dogmatic. It’s clearly a straight up critique of the transcendent power of faith. But it also explores Delicious’ journey towards self actualization: recognizing and coming to appreciate one’s own limitations is the one true path to understanding and reaching your full potential.

Ruffalo’s solid direction requires that viewers enter into an urban landscape of poverty seldom observed and frequently ignored. SfD’s power comes as much from its art as its ability to act as an unapologetic in-your-face public service announcement highlighting the depravity of homelessness and the need to bring American home.

Sympathy for Delicious opens in New York and LA this Friday, and Washington, DC next week.  Check your local listings for show times, or watch the trailer today.

-Neil Donovan

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