Home / Dave Brockington / Sunday Crazy Blogging: Municipal Ordinance Edition.

Sunday Crazy Blogging: Municipal Ordinance Edition.


“Members of Orlando Food Not Bombs were arrested Wednesday when police said they violated a city ordinance by feeding the homeless” in some city park.

It seems that the enlightened municipality of Orlando recently passed an ordinance that requires a permit to serve food to the homeless if there’s more than 25 of said homeless, and any given group with the temerity to encourage homelessness is limited to two permits per year per park.  This city law made it as far as the 11th Circuit, who unsurprisingly supported the constitutionality of the law.  While I’m no expert, I could see such a law easily passing constitutional muster (especially in the 11th Circuit), but that’s not the point.  It’s a ludicrous law.

I’d be interested to hear the public statements regarding the need for this law, and more revealing, the private motivations.  The latter are pretty easy to imagine: feeding the homeless en mass creates an incentive for these citizens to congregate and remain in the area, and that’s bad for business.  Or something.  (Or maybe the fine city of Orlando is just vindictive.)  Publicly, I’d guess the arguments went along the lines of requiring assurances of public safety and sanitation.  But why limit the permits per group to two per year?  The city doesn’t have the money to allow a volunteer organization serving donated food to do so more than twice per year?

At least the cops, demonstrating some PR savvy, “waited until everyone was served to make the arrests, said Douglas Coleman, speaking for Orlando Food Not Bombs.”

Is this ordinance anomalous, or are there other examples of the same throughout the US?

h/t Victoria Shineman

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  • Ken

    I thought the claim was that we could get rid of government aid to the poor, because faith-based and other charitable groups would step up to fill the gap.

  • DocAmazing

    Here’s where I get offensive.

    San Franciscans are very familiar with something we call “Greyhound Therapy”. That treatment modality consists of municipal officials (usually police officers) rounding up homeless people and giving them bus tickets (frequently to the Bay Area) and instructions not to return. Cities that have been caught pulling this include Phoenix and several Florida cities.

    These cities are noted for having populations that largely self-identify as Christian, which leads them to interest themselves in California politics when it comes to issues like same-sex marriage. These same Christians seem to have skipped the Beatitudes and all that stuff about “the least of my brothers” and “when I was hungry you fed me” in favor of the brimstony bits.

    Nice way to demonstrate faith.

    • DrDick

      Most so-called Christian conservatives seem never to have read the Gospels, only the Pentatuch, Paul, and Revelations, and those very, very selectively (I have not seen any of them give up ham, bacon, shrimp, or polyblends).

    • This Christian doesn’t find your comment the least bit offensive.

      • DrDick

        I would hope not since it does not address all Christians, only the so-called Christian conservatives (Ralph Reed, et al.).

        • …and begins with “Here’s where I get offensive.”

          Keep hope alive, Dr.

    • Dennis

      “These same Christians seem to have skipped the Beatitudes and all that stuff about “the least of my brothers” and “when I was hungry you fed me” in favor of the brimstony bits.”

      The brimstoniest parts of the New Testament ARE the parts that talk about what happens to those who don’t take care of the less fortunate.

    • Furious Jorge

      Doc, we here in beautiful St. Petersburg, Florida, have been on the receiving end of exactly those tactics from other cities for a long time. It’s ridiculous, and as a result, our own civic “leaders” have behaved in a way that approaches – but does not yet exceed – the idiocy in Orlando.

  • wengler

    I hope it’s also against the law to clothe the poor and feed the sick.

    • wengler

      heal the sick*

      I know it’s against the law to feed them. Duh.

      • Well, you know, feed a cold, starve a fever. Or starve a fever, feed a cold. Whatever. Better just to starve ’em all, just to be on the safe side…

        • Bart

          Spring back, fall forward.

    • astonishingly dumb hv

      I hope it’s also against the law to clothe the poor and feed the sick.

      Also, all the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free — shall be deported.

      • Tom Renbarger

        Your poor huddled masses, let’s club ’em to death and get it over with and just dump ’em on the boulevard.

  • Here’s a thought: why doesn’t the City of Orlando provide Food Not Bombs with a low-profile, out-of-the-way location where they can do their good work in a less-visible manner?

  • L2P

    I don’t know about the 2 permits per year, but except for that permits for public service to the homeless have been proposed in LA several times. The two main reasons for it are making sure there’s adequate police protection and making sure sanitation can clean up.

    It might not totally surprise you to learn that a lot of well-meaning people don’t think things through. If you’re going to feed 25-100 people, you generate a lot of trash, and if you don’t plan for it you can knock out a street or park for a while. IMO cities have a legitimate need to know when that’s happening, and what the plan is to deal with it.

    And it might not surprise you to know that, although it’s not common for crime to spike at these events, it does happen. (Usually the complaints come from homeless people.) This is a big gathering of people, and like any other big gathering of people, shit happens. IMO, cities have a legitimate interest in knowing where they might need to direct police.

    Maybe it’s just me but this doesn’t sound so crazy.

    I don’t know why you’d limit people to two permits per year. IMO that violates the right to travel, but that might not be recognized in the 11th circuit.

    • As someone who’s been to quite a few Food Not Bombs events in various capacities and in four major U.S. cities (and one Canadian one!), can I politely call bullshit here?

      Call it anecdotal evidence all you want, but it’s pretty clear that FNB is emphatically not a bunch of naive little dumplings who don’t have the faintest idea about how much trash there might be from feeding people (I’ve never seen the trash Not get picked up). Nor do activities like, I dunno, cultivating relationships with local businesses to supply a free cache of food on a regular basis lend themselves to the characterization of “not thinking things through.”

      As to worries about crime? There are a lot of homeless people out there. Some of them are criminals, drunks, ex-cons, people with mental ilnesses, drug addicts, and felons. Some of them, on the flip, are foreclosees, veterans, salt of the earth Americans. Neither group is less hungry, and both deserve to be fed in the richest country on earth! But if it takes you remembering the existence of the latter group to quit your griping about nonexistent problems with feeding people(!), could you just take a moment to reflect on that for a moment?

      To put it another way, does the existence of a scuffle now between the hungry and downtrodden every once in a while justify restricting access to healthy, safe food that they would otherwise not receive? I could see where you might be coming from if there were riots at FNB events as a matter of course, but I’ve felt anything other than pleased at punch when I’ve gone. (Of course, I am not homeless. Yet!)

      • Furthermore, since FNB events don’t actually increase the number of homeless, but rather feed those that are already living in the city, doesn’t providing them with sustenance actually make the city “safer” – particularly for that value of “safer” that includes “not having to see homeless people trying to get food,” which is a definition of “safer” that, I suspect, the Orlando City Council defaults to?

        And even further, wouldn’t an event that brings together homeless people in a predictable place be an excellent opportunity for various agencies, public and private, which provide resources like shelter, mental health counseling, job counseling, addiction counseling, and battered-women’s services to set up and conduct outreach, thereby possibly reducing the number of homeless in the city?

        I think it’s pretty clear who hasn’t thought things through, and it’s not the peaceful piercing aficionados who are handing out the leftover cheese burgers.

        • Malaclypse

          the leftover cheese burgers.

          Pretty sure FNB is vegan.

          Of course, everything else is spot-on.

          • Right you are. From their FAQs:

            Q16: Do you ever share meat?
            No we never share meat and try to avoid sharing dairy. It is not safe to recover meat as it can make people ill. We also want to stop the exploitation of not only people but animals. Also as part of our work for peace we do not want to be supporting violence against animals. A plant based diet is important to protecting the environment and is an important way to provide as much food with as little impact on the Earth as possible. Food Not Bombs seeks to introduce the vegan or vegetarian diet to the public. If someone donates meat to Food Not Bombs we redirect it to a charity that is willing to serve it.

      • Pls., don’t lump the merely mentally ill in w/ those other elements.


    • The Shaggy DA

      No, the two main stated reasons for it are “making sure there’s adequate police protection and making sure sanitation can clean up.” The actual reason for it is that we don’t want those hobos to feel too comfortable and hang around bumming us all out. The homeless are creepy.

    • Richard Hershberger

      For more anecdotal evidence, I belong to an old established urban church. We give out about fifty free lunches every weekday, and have been for years. We have never had any problem with crime. We also avoid any park ordinance issue by using our own real estate: makes cleanup easy, too.

  • Randy Owens

    Not just Orlando. Here in the heart of tolerance, Arizona *cough*, we’ve got almost exactly the same thing going down: The Rigid Code | Tucson Weekly.

  • snarkout

    San Francisco was absolutely notorious for this in the Frank Jordan days, to the extent that it was an issue in mayoral elections.

    • DocAmazing

      Served us right for making the police chief mayor.

  • scepticus

    Las Vegas tried something like that 5 years ago, was sued, and lost. The most recently I have heard about that continuing saga was last year:


    • Chocolate Covered Cotton

      Las Vegas did indeed ban the feeding of homeless persons who’d been congregating in a particular park. The food distribution went there because that’s where the homeless were. Upon having their ban overturned in court, the city chose the totally-not-unreasonable option of closing the park entirely. It remains closed today, surrounded by chain link fence and “no trespassing” signs.

      Las Vegas has no fewer homeless people now than then, of course. The residents near the park who’d complained about them still have plenty of homeless folks in their neighborhood. They also no longer have a park.

  • It is kind of a stray cat theory of homelessness: If you don’t feed them you won’t have them. Problem solved.

  • The Fool

    Somewhere, Matthew Yglesias is smirking and doesn’t know why.

  • S Physicist

    Obviously the city council is made up of scumbags, but perhaps the decent people of Orlando could create, say, 183 “separate” groups and divvy up the 365–366 days of the year between them?

    • RepubAnon

      As S Physicist says, just create a large number of separate groups.

      When San Francisco went through this, the folks defending the idea stated that feeding the homeless caused them to congregate in that neighborhood. Neighbors complained, allegations that the homeless were moving to be closer to the food, all the usual sanitation / illegal camping / food handling complaints.

      In this economy, though, you’d think people would think twice about seeking to punish folks helping the homeless – especially people whose houses are underwater and are behind on their bills. It’s like print journalists writing articles praising the shredding of the safety net as “bold” and “necessary” without stopping to think about their newspaper’s fiscal health.

      • Bruce Baugh

        If you were a Republican, you’d know that we need more desperate people, not fewer, and think twice about any provision of largesse independent of corporate authority.

    • ajay

      Not even that. Take a leaf out of Enron’s book and create 365 different groups, all of which exist only on paper, each of which then subcontracts the actual feeding-the-hungry operation to FNB.

      “No, sorry, today we’re handing out food on behalf of the St Barbara Sudden and Cataclysmic Aid Center. Here’s our permit. You’ll note that they haven’t done any food distribution before. Maybe you’re confusing us with Thursday, when we were here handing out food on behalf of the Freewheelin’ Franklin Freak Memorial Whole Food and Niceness Collective.”

  • Warren Terra

    It’s subscriber-only, but if you have access through an institutional subscription at a school or library or the like, William Vollman’s 18-page essay Homeless In Sacramento, published in a recent issue of Harpers, is worth a read, and extremely relevant.

  • Stephen P

    No anomaly: see the reports the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty has been producing for some years now: http://www.nlchp.org/program_reportspubs.cfm?TAB=2&FA=4&prog=4

  • Murc

    I am on board with the general idea of having an ordinance saying that if you’re planning on feeding the homeless en masse, that’s something that the city government is legitimately interested in and they’d like to know you’re responsible enough to handle your shit.

    However, such permits should be easy, nearly pro forma, to get, and if you get groups that actually are trashing areas or suchly, you deal with that AFTER THE FACT. The state issues me a license to drive. It waits until I actually jump a curb and plow into a storefront to take it away.
    The town will issue me a variance to build a new shed. It waits until I start actually hiding co-eds underneath the foundation before it sends in the cops.

    Putting a cap of two per year on said permits says to me that the city doesn’t actually give a fuck about helping the homeless, that they’d like them to go away and die quietly. That may be constitutional, but it makes them horrible human beings. It also makes them wrong.

    • astonishingly dumb hv

      Murc for mayor.

      • Murc

        My first act as Mayor would be to make pants optional.

        Not just for city employees. Everyone, all the time.

        • Bill Murray

          Pants are good — as Larry the Croc says “Me no wear pants. It feel so guuud!” http://www.cafepress.com/dd/36225517?pid=4740463

          You could also resurrect Jello Biafra’s business men in clown suits mayoral plank.

        • Malaclypse

          You could just adopt Hunter Thompson’s Freak Power platform. Can’t find it online, and lost TGSH years ago, but it included ideas like ripping up every paved road, to produce a walkable Aspen. Oh, and drug legalization, but no mescaline while on duty.

    • Ed Marshall

      We tried to run a food not bombs in my hometown, and the main opposition was this guy who had the only vending license downtown. He was certain that the suit and tie people who ate his burgers and dogs would go poach rice and beans from us to get a free lunch. He must have been a Republican. He would call the Department of Health, and they would shut us down.

      Just to spite him, we would pay $50 for a temporary food permit and found a park with a church next to it that would allow us to at least claim to be using their inspected kitchen. The red tape, expense, and hoop jumping made it all just easier to find something else to do.

      • Bill Murray

        Did the downtown guy’s name sound like Dibbler?

        • Ed Marshall

          If that is a Discworld reference the strange thing is I just started reading that Monday.

          • Bill Murray

            yes it is — Cut Me Own Throat (CMOT) Dibbler who can sell sausage based on its squeal and smell not taste

  • Woodrowfan

    Between feeding the homeless and people dancing at national moments, it’s clear that the nation is heading to hell in a handbasket!

  • LosGatosCA

    In addition to being poor, sick, and homeless it’s a disgrace that they don’t just disappear, preferably by dying before their Medicare kicks in. I used to worry about the tax money being wasted on Medicaid, too, but that seems like Ryan has a serious plan for that.

    The Christianist Bible Belters have it on good authority that the Republican god favors rich people and that everyone else is going to Republican god Hell anyway. So wasting resources, encouraging or even tolerating others who care, or being decent human beings in these cases makes no difference and is actually interfering with the Republican god’s plan of eternal damnation for whatever sins made them poor, sick, or homeless.

  • acallidryas

    Holy crap, I used to serve breakfasts in that park back when I was in college! I don’t remember it ever being any sort of an issue then, but perhaps Florida has recently caught on to the critical danger posed by Food Not Bombs? I was talking to my brother and his girlfriend recently where they related that they had been told that their FNB chapter was not allowed to distribute food in the park they had been in, although I don’t remember if it was our hometown in SW Florida or Tallahassee, where they go to school. I gather they’d taken to just dropping off a bunch of food, then hanging around and cleaning up, rather than “serving” to try to get around it, but I don’t know how well that’s working out for them.

  • M. Showperson

    It’s less the City Council and more the Mayor & his office waging a war against FNB. There’s been an ongoing war against the homeless by City Hall for a number of years in Orlando. (More or less, the mayor is trying to make the rejuvenation of the downtown district his legacy [cf the corporate welfare handout to Amway guru Rich DeVos for a new stadium for the Orlando Magic]. Can’t revive downtown with all those eyesore homeless shuffling about.) For a few years, those homeless asking for money were actually required to do so only in blue-painted squares around the downtown area. Should they violate that dictum, they could either be arrested or, more often than not, just harassed by the police.

    Anyhow, with the permit tactic, FNB can continue to serve food (they do so twice a week) throughout the year, so long as they do it only at a given park twice a year. The park they do it at currently–Lake Eola Park–is centrally located to the city and they’ve been doing it there for years. So, by forcing FNB to move about to the many different parks, they’re deliberately making their job harder. It’s not as if the homeless can consult Twitter to see where FNB will be distributing food on a given Wednesday.

  • Nathanael

    Orlando Republican scum should watch out.

    When the number of hungry homeless people increases beyond a threshold level, this sort of stupid law turns into the motivation for bloody revolution. I’m sure the Orlando Republican scum think this can never happen, but with Republican economic policies, it can….

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