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Jazz Musician Sings for Change

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Awareness

Jazz singer, Madeleine Peyroux, is a long time advocate and philanthropist of organizations fighting to end homelessness. She was born in Georgia, but grew up in the cities of New York City and Paris. She was inspired to start singing at age 15 after being inspired by the street musicians in the Latin Quarter of Paris. One year later she joined the Lost Wandering Blues and Jazz Band and toured Europe. In 1996 she released her first album, “Dreamland” and since then has released an addition three albums.

To pursue the playing of music as a career soon after, was for me a continuation of my time in those streets, with the families I had created and the echoes I had left behind.”

The singer, songwriter and guitarist has been compared to the likes of Billie Holiday. She has preformed all around the world. She has toured with big names, like Sarah McLachlan, but has also headlined her own tours around the country and world. Starting in 2005, Peyroux began adding a $1.00 surcharge to her concert tickets to raise money for local homeless organizations. Her efforts have raised thousands for organizations like Real Change in Seattle, Street Roots in Portland and the Emergency Family Assistance Association in Boulder, among many others. She is a strong supporter of the work of the National Coalition for the Homeless.

In addition to her philanthropic commitment, she was recently featured on a CD compilation called “Give US Your Poor.” The album features musicians, such as Bruce Springsteen, and collaborations with currently or formerly homeless musicians. The proceeds from the album benefit the national awareness campaign, Give US Your Poor. Madeleine Peyroux is a musician dedicated to making real change.

By Samantha McClean, Former NCH Intern

*Photo used with permission from Madeleine Peyroux

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.

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