Thursday, December 20, 2007

Homeless Persons' Memorial Day: Dec. 21

Local Activist Groups to
Hold Homeless Persons
Memorial Day Observance

Dec. 20, 2007

For immediate release

Local Contact:
Ben Markeson
407.252.1379 (cell)

National Contact:
Michael Stoops
National Coalition for the Homeless,
Washington, D.C.
202.462.4822 x19

ORLANDO--A commemoration of Homeless Persons' Memorial Day will be held Friday, Dec. 21, 7 p.m., in front of Orlando City Hall. The purpose is to honor the memory of homeless people who have died in our community during the preceding 12 months. The event will consist of a candlelight vigil, a reading of the names of our community's deceased homeless, speakers--local clergy and activists--and a "speak-out" segment during which the homeless can talk about their deceased compatriots and about what it's like to be a homeless person in the Orlando area.

This event is being sponsored by Orlando Food Not Bombs, S.T.O.P.--Stop the Ordinance Partnership, the Young Communist League (Orlando chapter) and the Orlando Progressive Alliance. In addition, the congregation of the First Vagabonds Church of God, a local homeless ministry, will attend the City Hall commemoration following their own National Homeless Persons' Memorial Day event in the Lake Lucerne neighborhood at 6 p.m.

The groups also will distribute clothing, blankets, personal hygiene items--toothbrushes, toothpaste, etc.--and food to the homeless during the event. They have either gotten the items donated from within the community or have used their own resources to purchase them.

This commemoration is being held at Orlando City Hall to remind the public and local government that the homeless are citizens and members of the community and are entitled to be treated with dignity and to have their civil rights respected. The organizers also wish to remind City officials that their punitive policies towards the homeless--such as a ban on sharing food with the homeless in public parks downtown, restrictions on panhandling and regular harassment by Orlando police--criminalize homelessness but do nothing to address its underlying causes and only serve to make life more difficult for our community's homeless population.

The organizers hope their event will highlight the City of Orlando's misplaced priorities, such as spending more than a billion dollars on sports and entertainment venues while failing to direct sufficient resources towards addressing the problems and underlying causes of homelessness in our community. These include a chronic shortgage of shelter beds for our area's homeless population, inadequate treatment options for homeless individuals suffering from alcohol and drug addiction and mental illness, failure to ensure that jobs pay living wages and to address the lack of affordable housing in our community, and the delay in establishing a homeless drop-in center, a "one-stop shop" where the homeless could obtain the help and resources they need to get off the streets permanently.

National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day has occurred on the first day of winter, December 21, since 1990. The event is sponsored by the National Coalition for the Homeless, the National Health Care for the Homeless Council, the National Consumer Advisory Board, and local groups nationwide. It is intended to bring attention to the tragedy of homelessness, and to remember our homeless friends who have paid the ultimate price for our nation’s failure, at all levels, to address the issue.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

More coverage of Eric's trial & LadleFest,0,110481.story

Man who feeds homeless cleared

Kate Santich |Sentinel Staff Writer
[published[ October 10, 2007

In a case watched closely by homeless advocates around the country, Orlando jurors Tuesday acquitted 22-year-old Eric Montanez of violating the city's controversial ban on large group feedings in public parks.

Montanez, who faced up to six months in jail and a $500 fine for the misdemeanor, said he never lost faith during his two-day trial, believing the jury "would not convict a person for feeding the homeless."

Immediately after the verdict, Orange County Judge Steve Jewett praised Montanez for wanting to help those less fortunate but cautioned him that "you do need to follow the law."

But outside the courtroom, Montanez vowed to continue his group's weekly feedings at Lake Eola and stuck with his contention that volunteers already were in compliance with the 2006 ordinance, which prohibits feedings of 25 or more people in city parks without a permit. The law also limits each group to two permits per park per year.

Although the feedings regularly attract more than 50 people -- some said more than 100 -- volunteers have said there are several groups sponsoring the feedings and that no one group is feeding more than 24 people at a time. Much of the testimony focused on what appeared to be varying interpretations of the law.

City prosecutor Kimberly Laskoff had no comment on the verdict, but Orlando Police Department spokeswoman Barbara Jones issued a statement Tuesday evening saying: "It appears the jury felt the defendant did not violate the city ordinance. That said, the city will continue to enforce this ordinance, as it is a vehicle for the city to balance the needs and safety of residents visiting the park and those who desire to feed in the park."

The April 4 arrest was the city's first and only enforcement of the ordinance so far.

Across the country, several major cities have passed laws aimed at keeping the homeless out of upscale neighborhoods or tourist destinations -- a trend some call "the criminalization of homelessness."

According to a report by the nonprofit National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, tactics have included bans or restrictions on panhandling, sleeping in public and loitering, as well as destruction of homeless camps and prohibitions of public feedings.

Dallas, for instance, passed a law effective September 2005 that penalized charities, churches and other organizations that serve food to the needy outside certain designated city areas. Violators can be fined up to $2,000.

"It does seem to be a new trend," said Orlando attorney Jacquelyn Dowd, who represented Montanez and whose nonprofit law firm, Legal Advocacy at Work, often handles cases for those with no permanent address. "Instead of going after the homeless, they're going after people who serve the homeless."

During the trial, though, Laskoff said the ordinance -- while perhaps not "popular" -- was never aimed specifically at the homeless. Instead, she said, it was an effort to control any large-scale feeding for reasons of safety, both to those eating and to others. She called Montanez's volunteerism "a noble gesture" but said he understood the law and ignored it anyway.

"This is a young man who wants to prove his point," Laskoff told jurors in her closing arguments. "He wants to do what he wants, where he wants and how he wants. . . . The defendant himself told you he fed more than 30 people on that single day" of his arrest.

But other testimony showed there was occasional confusion over the law. One week Montanez and fellow members of Orlando Food Not Bombs, which began the weekly Lake Eola feedings in 2004, were told they were in compliance, only to be told the next week they were not. That scene was captured in a video played for the jury.

Whether Orlando police make further arrests or not, the ordinance still faces a constitutional challenge by the Central Florida chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union in federal court. That trial is not set until summer 2008. Montanez and the First Vagabonds Church of God -- a ministry run by a formerly homeless man -- are among the plaintiffs in the case.

Meanwhile, Montanez wasted no time in returning to his cause. After speaking to the media, he went immediately to Lake Eola to join an ongoing "Ladle-Fest" held in support of him -- three days of thrice-daily hot meals for the hungry.

But he added, "I'm going to try to avoid getting arrested again."

Kate Santich can be reached at or 407-420-5503.

Not Guilty Verdict In Homeless Feeding Trial
Tuesday, October 09, 2007 4:52:03 PM

Not guilty. That's the verdict Tuesday for the man on trial for violating the city's rules when it comes to feeding the homeless.

Eric Montanez, 22, is with the group [Orlando] Food Not Bombs. He was the first person arrested earlier this year on charges that he broke the rules when it comes to Orlando's limits on just how often the homeless can be fed and how many can be fed at one time.

Montanez argued in court the ordinance is unfair and criminalizes homelessness.

To show its support, the group organized [Lake Eola] Ladle Fest, a three-day large scale feeding at Lake Eola Park. It runs through Wednesday.

Food Not Bombs say it's dividing the feeding into several small groups so it doesn't violate the ordinance.

Man Not Guilty Of Violating Homeless Feeding Ordinance

POSTED: 4:52 pm EDT October 9, 2007
UPDATED: 5:39 pm EDT October 9, 2007

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. -- An Orange County man was found not guilty late Tuesday afternoon of violating a city of Orlando ordinance banning mass feedings. It took the jury around three hours to return their verdict.

Late Tuesday morning, Eric Montanez and his attorney tried to get the case thrown out, but the judge denied the motion. One last witness took the stand early Tuesday afternoon before the case was handed to the jury.

The jury once again watched video shot by undercover Orlando police officers the day Montanez was arrested. The officers testified that they remember seeing Montanez and his group, Food Not Bombs, feed at least 30 people, but the crowd grew tremendously throughout the evening.

"You fed as the officers indicated at least 30 people that day right?" the city attorney asked Montanez on Tuesday in court.

"Yes," Montanez said. "I don't know exactly how many people I served."

Montanez told the jury that he believes the law was put in place to unfairly target the homeless.

"My opposition to the ordinance is that it is obviously selectively enforced, criminalization of the poor," he said.

City ordinance bans feeding more than 25 people in one area, unless you have a permit. Montanez said he didn't know he needed a permit that day because there had been so many changes to the ordinance since it was implemented more than a year ago.

"You've been charged once. I don't think not knowing what the ordinance from now on will be something you can hide behind. I hope that you do continue to do the work that you do," the judge told Montanez after the verdict was read.

City attorneys had argued there was a clear policy in place regarding the ordinance, but Montanez simply chose not to follow it.

Montanez already spent two days in jail. If he had been convicted, he could have been sentenced to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. There was no word on whether the city will adjust the ordinance as a result of the not guilty verdict.,0,7851947.story?coll=orl_tab01_layout

Lake Eola feedings coincide with start of activist's trial

Kate Santich |Sentinel Staff Writer
5:05 PM EDT, October 9, 2007

The trial of Eric Montanez, the first person arrested under a controversial 2006 city ordinance for feeding the homeless in a public park, began Monday as fellow activists launched a three-day "ladle-fest" at Lake Eola in a show of solidarity.

Fellow members of Orlando Food Not Bombs, the group Montanez joined when he began feeding the homeless at Lake Eola nearly three years ago, served a free hot breakfast, lunch and dinner Monday and said they will continue doing so through Wednesday.

Near a sign reading, "Don't criminalize the hungry," member Ben Markeson said, "Right now the perception of the city of Orlando around the country is that Orlando is heartless towards the homeless. It doesn't care about them. What the city of Orlando wants to do is drive homeless people out of downtown Orlando because they're bad for business."

But in the Orange County courtroom of Judge Steve Jewett, Orlando city prosecutor Kimberly Laskoff told the jury the issue was not whether the anti-feeding law was "popular."

"You need to follow the law," Laskoff said in her opening statement. "Mr. Montanez, perhaps in good will, broke the law. . . . That's all there is."

Yet Montanez would testify he was not trying to make a statement or deliberating violating the law when he was arrested.

"We were complying with the ordinance as much as possible so that we could continue to serve," said Montanez, 22. "That was more important to us than all being in jail."

In fact, he testified, the group had moved its feedings several times in order to stay within the law -- even serving the homeless out of a van parked at least a block away from the park. Moreover, Montanez testified, an Orlando police officer had met with the group five months before the April 4 arrest and told them they were doing nothing wrong.

On the evening of the arrest, masked undercover officers videotaped the scene from a nearby SUV, and one jeans-wearing, unshaven undercover officer strolled nearby, recording the scene with a hidden camera.

"We were concerned," Montanez testified, saying he didn't realize at the time that the masked men in the SUV were police officers -- and that someone from his group called 911 to report the taping.

"It's kind of odd when people sit in an SUV with masks and take video-camera pictures of people who are just eating in the park," he said.

The officers, part of the city's vice unit, said they counted the number of people who were served stew by Montanez until they reached 30 -- five more than the city's legal limit for the number of people who can be fed in a city park without a permit. The city's ordinance also limits each group to two permits a year.

Although organizers of the meals have said that four groups were involved in serving the homeless that evening -- likely to be a focal point of the trial -- officers said they considered it one group.

The trial is expected to conclude today.

Kate Santich can be reached at or 407-420-5503.

Jury Deliberating In Homeless Feeding Violation Case

POSTED: 11:35 am EDT October 9, 2007
UPDATED: 3:20 pm EDT October 9, 2007

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The jury started deliberating Tuesday afternoon in an unprecedented case at the Orange County courthouse. Eric Montanez, 22, is the first person arrested and charged with violating a city ordinance that bans feeding more than 25 people in one area.

Late Tuesday morning, Eric Montanez and his attorney tried to get the case thrown out, but the judge denied the motion. One last witness took the stand early Tuesday afternoon before the case was handed to the jury thereafter.

Montanez didn't shy away from what he believes in, spending more than an hour on the stand Tuesday morning and part of Monday telling the jury that he is only out to feed the hungry.

The jury once again watched video shot by undercover Orlando police officers the day Montanez was arrested. The officers testified that they remember seeing Montanez and his group, Food Not Bombs, feed at least 30 people, but the crowd grew tremendously throughout the evening.

"You fed as the officers indicated at least 30 people that day right?" the city attorney asked Montanez on Tuesday in court.

"Yes," Montanez said. "I don't know exactly how many people I served."

"But roughly that if not more right?" the attorney asked.

"Yes," Montanez said.

City ordinance bans feeding more than 25 people in one area, unless you have a permit. Montanez said he didn't know he needed a permit that day because there had been so many changes to the ordinance since it was implemented more than a year ago.

Montanez told the jury that he believes the law was put in place to unfairly target the homeless.

"My opposition to the ordinance is that it is obviously selectively enforced, criminalization of the poor," he said.

City attorneys argued there is a clear policy in place regarding the ordinance, but Montanez simply chose not to follow it.

Montanez already spent two days in jail. If he's convicted, he could get sentenced to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. If he's acquitted, there's no word on whether the city will tweak the ordinance as a result.

Feeding the Hungry is a Crime

October 10, 2007

Feeding the Hungry is a Crime
City councils are cracking down on charity groups that feed the homeless without a permit

By Megan Tady

The stake-out was almost comical in its absurdity: On April 4, 2007, undercover police counted how many times Eric Montanez, a 22-year-old volunteer with Food Not Bombs, dipped a serving ladle into a pot and handed stew to hungry people.

Once Montanez had dished up 30 bowls, the police moved in, collecting a vial of the stew for evidence as they arrested him for violating an Orlando, Fla., city ordinance: feeding a large group. Two days into his trial yesterday, Montanez was acquitted by a jury of the misdemeanor charge, but was cautioned to obey the law.

As activists celebrate the verdict, the Orlando Police Department has said it will continue to ordinance, making the fight for the free flow of food in the city far from over.

"He is on trial for the crime of feeding the homeless--literally," says George Crossley, a member of the Stop the Ordinance Partnership (S.T.O.P.), an alliance of 19 advocacy groups, including Orlando branches of Code Pink, the NAACP, and the National Organization for Women.

What Crossley and others are trying to stop is a "large group feeding[s]" ordinance passed in July 2006 by the Orlando City Council that essentially bans groups from providing food to more than 25 people in downtown parks without a permit.

Under the ordinance, groups can only obtain two permits a year per park for the purpose of sharing food with a large group. Although the ordinance does not explicitly target the homeless, the guillotine falls on their heads, as they are largely the benefactors of churches, charities and activist groups serving free food in easily accessible parks.

"Eric's arrest shows both the heartlessness of Orlando towards the destitute and those who aid them," the Orlando Food Not Bombs (FNB) chapter said in a statement in April.

Just as Orlando is cracking down on free meals that make life more bearable for homeless people, so too are other cities.
This month, West Palm Beach, Fla., passed a similar ordinance that criminalizes feeding the homeless in public places, and last week officials in Cleveland, Ohio, prohibited groups from sharing food in the city's Public Square. In February, a man in Jacksonville, Fla., was given a citation for handing out food to the homeless without a permit, though it was later thrown out. And FNB says fear is spreading in Albuquerque, N.M., that city officials may pass a similar ordinance, which has long been an avenue used to force out homeless people.

Volunteers and activists are decrying the laws, calling any measure that keeps free food out of the hands of the needy inhumane.

"It's essentially saying that homeless people are not worthy of attention or respect and they’re nothing more than pigeons who should be fed some place else so they’re not a bother to mainstream society," says FNB Co-founder Keith McHenry.

McHenry says feeding the homeless is part of a larger social justice agenda.

"There's a broader principle in America that we're trying to address, and that is, food is a human right, not to be relegated to being a commodity," McHenry says. "People who are hungry in this country deserve good, nutritious food without having to go through a lot of bureaucratic hurdles to get that food, and without having to be demeaned."

As with the other city ordinances, Orlando designated a specific area away from downtown businesses where groups could offer food without a permit. But McHenry says the purpose of visibly feeding homeless people is to draw attention to the problem, and that FNB rejects hiding a situation that the city refuses to confront compassionately.

"They say, 'If you want to feed people, why don't you do it out of sight?'" McHenry says. "That's not our goal. Our goal is... to change society."

The designated area in Orlando, however, is gated and groups must notify the authorities to unlock the space before every food sharing.

Brian Davis, director of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, says Cleveland police notified the group on October 3 that groups and churches could no longer provide food in the Public Square because of health hazards. Davis was told the city had discovered rat holes at the park. The Cleveland City Council did not return calls seeking comment.

According to a recent blog post by Davis, "The Chief of Police and the entire command staff stopped a group from unloading their food on the Square. Then they tried to move to another park and that did not work because law enforcement stopped them. The group was told that if they unload that they would be arrested."

The groups were also given an alternate site for food sharing, but Davis told In These Times, "It couldn't be a worse place to go."

Shawn, an FNB volunteer in Cleveland reluctant to give his last name, says the regulation on feedings in the park is taking a toll. "What [the ordinance] has accomplished is probably diminished the amount of people getting fed when you're forced to move to a location that's too far for people to walk to," he says.

Shawn says FNB would return to serving food in the Public Square. "It hasn't stopped us," he says. "There should be no law against feeding people."

But feeding people, says McHenry, is bad for business. As tables of free food attract a larger than usual number of homeless people to city parks, nearby businesses fear their revenue streams may suffer.

"[Business owners] believe that people won't shop in those neighborhoods. They're not attractive," McHenry says.

He also says cities fear the presence of readily available food will bring more homeless people into their community, and "they'll have to raise tax money to provide affordable housing and public assistance and shelters."

Heather Allebaugh, constituent correspondent for the City of Orlando, says the city council enacted the ordinance in response to "complaints from residents and businesses immediately following the feedings of activity and drug use around the area."

Allebaugh also says the ordinance was designed to help maintain the parks. "It's a balance between the residents and their safety when they come to the park when the feedings are taking place," she says.

In response to criticisms that an ordinance curtailing the availability of free food is inhumane, Allebaugh says the measure is "not a ban, but a regulation."

"It's just about maintaining a regulation just as we do for parades and garage sales so we have an idea of what’s happening at public parks," Allebaugh says. "Maybe there's extra security needed for the people attending. Maybe they need extra trash receptacles. It's just to help us manage events that are happening within our city. I don’t think it was targeted at any group. It was more about the proper location to feed, rather than whether to ban feeding."

The city did not enact any provisions to feed the homeless people who relied on the routinely accessible free food. Allebaugh says such services do not fall within the jurisdiction of the city.

The crackdown on food sharings follows other policies designed to penalize and ostracize homeless people. Orlando's estimated 9,000 homeless people are subject to laws that prevent them from lying on benches and from panhandling during certain hours. Cleveland recently enacted a law that sets a 10 pm curfew at the city's Public Square, intending to stop people from sleeping in the park.

"[The City Council] is brutal about this," says Crossley of S.T.O.P. "This is not a game to these people. They're not trying to find a solution to why these people are out there."

Allebaugh count[er]s, however, that the Council is addressing homelessness through a regional commission expected to issue "findings and suggestions" in February on how to "address homelessness and hopefully come up with a 10-year plan to end homelessness."

The harsh treatment of homeless people also comes as the number of displaced people rises. On Monday, the Associated Press reported that there are an estimated 750,000 homeless people in the United States, although the figure is difficult to pinpoint.

"The criminalization of homeless people shows that there's no political will by our society to deal with the crisis in a humane and logical way," McHenry says. "The reality is that homeless people are regular Americans who lost their jobs due to all the different policies that are happening, like outsourcing, and the huge redirection of our infrastructure toward the military and away from things like education and health care."

Despite the ordinances, and the recent arrest of Montanez, activists are refusing to back down. Coinciding with Montanez’ trial, Orlando FNB has been holding a three-day event [Lake Eola Ladle Fest] with multiple food sharings that violate the ordinance. Crossley says more than 100 people were served breakfast on Monday. As of press time, no other arrests have been made.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, representing the First Vagabonds Church of God and FNB, filed suit against the Council last October, calling the ordinance unconstitutional. In 2006, a federal court judge issued an injunction on a Las Vegas measure that prohibited "providing food or meals to the indigent for free or for a nominal fee."

McHenry says he thinks the ordinances will spur a new wave of activism. "People are already going to Orlando to risk arrest because they're so outraged," he says.

Crossley says volunteers already in Orlando have no plans to back down.

"Are we going to keep the fight up? You bet," he says. "There's not going to be any give on the part of the progressive community. The only way that S.T.O.P. would disband would be if the ordinance was repealed or defeated."

Megan Tady is a National Political Reporter for Previously, she worked as a reporter for the NewStandard, where she published nearly 100 articles in one year. Megan has also written for Clamor, CommonDreams, E Magazine, Maisonneuve, PopandPolitics, and Reuters.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Coverage of Eric Montanez's trial, Ladle Fest Day 1

Lake Eola Ladle Fest and Eric Montanez's trial were covered by Channels 2, 6, 9 and 13, plus two Spanish-language TV channels, WMFE-FM (90.7, public radio) and the Orlando Sentinel. Check out the Ladle Fest website: On Day 1 of Ladle Fest, Orlando Food Not Bombs shared with an aggregate of least 200 people during its three food sharings. The police presence was minimal. About 20-25 people participated in the post-breakfast march from Lake Eola Park to the Orange County Courthouse to show solidarity with Eric. They chanted and held signs and the OFNB banner. Breakfast consisted of banana pancakes with vegan margarine and maple syrup, sliced oranges and cantalopes, and bagels; lunch included spaghetti with tomato sauce and vegan veggie burritos; and dinner consisted of vegan veggie soup with rice, apple crisp and sliced oranges.

Man Testifies In Own Defense During Homeless Feeding Trial

POSTED: 6:19 pm EDT October 8, 2007
UPDATED: 6:27 pm EDT October 8, 2007

ORLANDO, Fla. -- There was testimony Monday from the first man ever charged for feeding the homeless in Orlando. The city has an ordinance banning the feeding of more than 25 people in one area.

Eric Montanez took the stand in his own defense Monday afternoon. He said he understood what he was being charged with, but when asked why he feeds the homeless he simply said it's because people are hungry.

Monday, before he even went to court, Montanez was doing the very thing he's in trouble for, feeding the homeless at Lake Eola Park. He was the first person arrested for the crime in April and the first to go to trial.

The city banned the feedings because of complaints from people being uncomfortable with the large gatherings of homeless. The city has also called it a public safety issue.

Monday in court, prosecutors told jurors, no matter how anyone feels about the law, it is the law and Montanez broke it. Then they called police officers to the stand to testify they saw Montanez break the law.

The defense argues Montanez was just sharing his food. When he took the stand in his own defense, he explained why he fed the homeless, but also took the opportunity to criticize city leaders for passing the law.

"Well, people are hungry in this city and this city passes countless ordinances and takes measures to demonize homeless people and the poor," he said.

Montanez was the last witness of the day and likely the last witness of the trial. He'll be cross-examined Tuesday, there will be closing arguments and then likely it will go to the jury.

Man's Trial Over Feeding Homeless Begins
City Says Charity Can't Serve More Than 25 People At One Time

POSTED: 1:07 pm EDT October 8, 2007
UPDATED: 3:25 pm EDT October 8, 2007

ORLANDO, Fla. -- A jury was seated and opening statements were set to begin on Monday in the trial of a man who was arrested for feeding homeless people in Orlando.

Eric Montanez was arrested several months ago on suspicion of serving more than 25 homeless people, which Orlando police said violates a city ordinance forbidding large group feedings.

The ordinance states that a charity can feed up to 25 people at a time.

Montanez, the first person to be arrested under the ordinance, said he doesn't regret it.

"This is not about me. This is not about an iconic figure. This is about hunger and the homeless," Montanez said. "The people are hungry. That's the honest-to-God truth."

Several charities joined Montanez on Monday morning to feed a large crowd of homeless people in what they said was the only way to legally continue to feed crowds of hungry people.

"Getting a hot meal is superb. It gives me energy to do what I got to do everyday," Ronald Pratt said.

"I think it's kind of sad for somebody to go to jail for trying to help other people," Rick Gaston said.

"The city, time and time again, is denying people, and they're giving nothing back," Montanez said.

If convicted, Montanez could face a maximum of 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.

Group Protests Member's Arrest
Food Not Bombs Feeds The Homeless Despite Bans

POSTED: 12:43 pm EDT October 8, 2007
UPDATED: 4:32 pm EDT October 8, 2007

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The local chapter of Food Not Bombs protested the arrest of one of its members in Orlando on Monday.

They said Eric Montanez is going on trial for feeding the hungry.

[Orlando] Food Not Bombs protested by doing exactly what an ordinance stated they should not do; they gathered the homeless in a public area and fed them.

The group fed about 100 people breakfast at Lake Eola Monday morning. Some of the homeless recipients said they appreciate the group's gesture and oppose a law that they said makes being nice illegal.

"What harm is it in giving something to somebody because you care?" breakfast attendee Stuart Simpson said. "What is the motive for the arrest? He gave something to somebody that you despise. That's what I'm seeing. I'm seeing a city that despises the fact that they have homeless people living within their area. They look at us as criminals, people that cause mischief. Not saying that there are some that do cause criminal mischief, but not everybody that's homeless is a criminal."

During the lunch break of his trial, Montanez was at Lake Eola feeding the homeless lunch, exactly what got him arrested in the first place.

“Out of the blue, without saying there was any change in interpretation, they arrested me,” Montanez said.

Orlando's ordinance does not allow any one group to feed more than 24 people in a public park.

The intent of the ordinance is for the park to be a place where people to come and go, not to become a home where people can eat, sleep and never leave.

Many see it as an attack on homelessness.

Another homeless man, Wayne Robinson, said he believes that groups like Food Not Bombs are helping the homeless get back on their feet.

"I think it's a lesson, and I think more people should be willing to step forward and do these things and try to help get us off these streets and show us a better way of life," Robinson said. "For me, it is showing that if we continuously care about each other and stretch our hand out to each other, and brothers and sisters, especially spiritual beings as we so call ourselves, that the society and the world will be a better place as a whole."

Officers from the Orlando Police Department also attended the protest. Officials said they're aware of the protest and point that Food Not Bombs is trying to make, but they would not say what they intend to do about the protest other than that they would continue with the routine patrol of the area and enforce the law.

No arrests were made during breakfast or lunch on Monday.

Food Not Bombs will continue to serve three meals a day for the next three days to emphasize their point on how unfair they believe the ordinance to be.

Ladle Fest Protests Ban Against Feeding Homeless
Monday, October 08, 2007 1:09:37 PM

Feeding the homeless has been a controversial topic in Orlando for months. On Monday, the group [Orlando] Food Not Bombs is rallying in Lake Eola to show support for one of their own and protest the ordinance that limits where and how often homeless feedings can take place.

"It's anti-homeless, inhumane and unconstitutional in our opinion, and according to our lawyer's opinion," said Ben Markeson, of Food Not Bombs.

Eric Montanez, 22, was the first person to be arrested under the new city rules. His trial is set to begin Monday.

As day broke Monday, people started to gather in the picnic area of Lake Eola for an event called Ladle Fest.

The ordinance against feeding the homeless was passed in summer of 2006. Many people called the ordinance anti-homeless and said the city was trying to get rid of the homeless.

"We're hoping to make a statement about the need in our community for food for homeless and low-income people and are also hoping to tell people that compassion shouldn't be criminalized, concern for the less fortunate shouldn't be criminalized and people who want to help people in the community should be able to do so without hindrance," Markeson said.

Food Not Bombs said it would feed people breakfast, lunch and dinner at Lake Eola through Wednesday. The group said it wanted to make the point that it would not stand by as people are prosecuted for a compassionate act.

Group Intentionally Violating City Ordinance During "Ladle Fest"

POSTED: 7:32 am EDT October 8, 2007
UPDATED: 5:31 pm EDT October 8, 2007

ORLANDO, Fla. -- A controversial city ordinance has led to a number of protests and now a trial. An Orlando man is the first person to face a jury for feeding the homeless.

It's the first trial of its kind. A man is facing a judge and jury for violating Orlando's ban on feeding the homeless. Eric Montanez, 22, was caught feeding a group in Lake Eola Park earlier this year. The prosecution told Eyewitness News their case rests on video taken of Montanez feeding the homeless, breaking Orlando's feeding ban.

"There are a lot better things for law enforcement to be doing in this town, but this was an outrage," said George Crossley of the ACLU.

Montanez and a small group of supporters marched from Lake Eola Park to the Orange County on Monday morning.

"We're ready to take this on," Montanez said.

Montanez and the group he's involved with, Food Not Bombs, returned to Lake Eola just after sunrise to once again violate the ordinance that has him on trial. Food Not Bombs volunteers served breakfast to about 100 Montanez supporters, most of them homeless. They will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner during what they're calling a three-day "ladle fest," not a protest.

"Me personally, I think that's discriminating for one," said Lamont Robinson, a homeless man.

"We're out here trying to survive from day to day life and this gentleman over here is helping us," said Melvin Moore, a homeless man.

In April, Montanez was arrested for violating the city ordinance that bans mass feeding in one area. His attorney will argue that the law is a violation of civil rights and say Montanez did nothing wrong, because every feeding that he participated in was done at a public park.

"The law itself should be illegal. Feeding people should not be criminalized. Being poor should not be criminalized," Montanez said.

The group is hoping to pressure city leaders into axing the ordinance that they believe is a violation of their civil rights, but the city has made no mention of such consideration being in their plans.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

West Palm FNB Defies City, Continues Sharing Food with Homeless,0,372870.story

Despite city ordinance, do-gooders continue to feed homeless

By Jerome Burdi | South Florida Sun-Sentinel
[published] October 7, 2007

West Palm Beach - The homeless and hungry were grateful as usual Saturday at Centennial Square as they ate in the shade. As they have for months, they came for a meal on a day other organizations don't give out free food.

Some didn't know about the controversy surrounding their macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes and beans. The city passed an ordinance last month barring programs from feeding the homeless outside the public library on Clematis Street and at the Meyer Amphitheatre just behind it. Mayor Lois Frankel said the homeless disrupt downtown businesses and residents.

The ordinance didn't stop [West Palm] Food Not Bombs, the organization that dishes out the food to roughly 30 men and women every Saturday.

And it didn't stop Julie Mines, a 46-year-old woman who lives in a tent off Military Trail. A member of the advocacy group told her about the free food, she said. She's been homeless for about five years since a former boyfriend beat her, breaking her nose and jaw, she said.

It went downhill for Mines afterward. Decent food is one of her few comforts.

"This is great," she said. "It shows people do care about the homeless."

Police were not enforcing the ordinance Saturday, Lt. Michael Roggin said.

"I don't think the ordinance is well defined yet," he said.

Two city residents argued with organizers about whether the food caused more harm than good. They said that with hard work, the homeless would have homes.

"There are people that are here that can work," said John Reis, 42.

Another resident, Lela Kaleis, said luring the homeless to the park with food, then leaving by 7 p.m. is irresponsible because that's when the drinking starts.

[West Palm] Food Not Bombs co-founder Jordan Hunt, 27, said the homeless would be there anyway.

"To blame us is absurd," he said. "We are here because there is a need."

That need often comes without warning.

"All you do is look at yourself in the mirror and say 'Why?' There's no answers, no answers," said J.J. King, 52, who is homeless. "You wake up tomorrow and the world's changed. It's over. It happens that fast."

Jerome Burdi can be reached at or 561-243-6531.

Group defies ordinance, feeds homeless

By Kelly Wolfe

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

[posted] Saturday, October 06, 2007

WEST PALM BEACH — A handful of volunteers and protestors defied a new city ordinance Saturday, handing out food to about a dozen homeless people on Clematis Street while police officers looked on.

"Homelessness is a pervasive problem in Palm Beach County," said attorney Barry Silver, who represents Food Not Bombs. "To be without a home is a terrible thing. But to be without a home and feel nobody cares is worse."

Starting at 4:28 p.m., Food Not Bombs set up shop in the park outside the library on Clematis Street. They piled paper plates with beans, rice, corn on the cob, macaroni and cheese, potatoes, broccoli and pastries. They handed out bottled water and toted a sign that read: Sharing Food is not a Crime.

"We feel the ordinance is unconstitutional, unethical, and goes against the rights of humanity," said Jordan Hunt, 27, spokesman for Food Not Bombs. Hunt said the group picked the park because there are tables, chairs and restrooms nearby. He said his group feeds about 20 homeless people each Saturday. He said he pays for most of the food himself, and also gets donations.

"The mayor, I don't understand her," said Hector Horne, 57. Horne lined up to get a plate of food and then went back for seconds. "It's like she doesn't have a conscience. She cares about the rich, not the poor."

Mayor Lois Frankel and city commissioners passed a measure Sept. 24 banning food handouts after a pleas from downtown residents and businesses. The ordinance took effect Friday. The votes were split and Frankel broke the tie.

Feeding went on without incident Saturday afternoon, albeit under the watchful eye of a handful of police officers on bicycles. Only one officer ever approached the group — and she didn't order them to leave. She did take some photographs. At one point, officers even ate ice cream as they watched.

A couple of downtown residents did stop by to complain.

Lela Kaleis, who lives in a building next to the library, said she worries the feeding attracts people who have more problems than hunger.

"What about that homeless man who raped those two girls," she said, referencing a case where a 40-year-old man attacked two women leaving Bradley's Saloon in July 2006. "Feed the homeless," Kaleis said. "But be responsible and feed them in a controlled area."

"The location is not a proper location and you know it," said downtown resident John Ries, 42, during a debate with Hunt.

But a few West Palm Beach residents came out to support the group.

"I have a nice, paid for house," said West Palm Beach resident John Koch, 79. "But I believe in justice and fairness. People have a right to eat."

Group breaks law to feed homeless
Last Update: 12:09 am [Oct. 7, 2007]

Reported by: Marci Gonzalez
Photographer: Eric Pasquarelli

Saturday, some volunteers ignored West Palm Beach's new ordinance that bans feeding the homeless in certain parts of the downtown.

An organization called [West Palm] Food Not Bombs has served dinner to the homeless and working poor for months, but this was the first time they did so illegally.

The city council recently passed an ordinance banning food distribution at the fountain, on the other side of the library and at the Meyer Amphitheatre.

Violators of the ordinance could face sixty days in jail or a fine up to $500.

Volunteers ignored the law and served mashed potatoes, broccoli, corn and other hot food to a small crowd of men and women who call themselves homeless, disabled, or the working poor.

Despite officers surrounding the small crowd gathered around steaming plates of food, no one was arrested or fined.

[West Palm] Food Not Bombs feels helping the hungry is worth the potential consequences.

Jordan Hunt of West Palm Beach's chapter of Food Not Bombs tells NewsChannel 5, "We're willing to stand up against an unjust law in order to uphold our freedoms and those that are in the most need of it."

Residents and business owners argued before the council and with volunteers, that food hand-outs draw criminals downtown.

A resident of Clematis Street passionately argued with Hunt that the program should be moved, calling the food distribution "irresponsible."

She claims no one takes responsibility for the homeless loitering and panhandling downtown after the program.

Lela Kaleis told Hunt, "If you believe in your cause as passionately as you do, do it in your own yard."

Hunt responded, "If the homeless lived in my front yard, I would bring food out to them, but the thing is, they live in downtown."

J.J. King is one of the homeless living on downtown West Palm Beach's streets.

He says he relies on the hot meals for nourishment and inspiration.

He tells NewsChannel 5, "If there's one thing these people do, they bring to us, it's hope."

King goes on to say, "This country is built on people who went ahead and stood by their rights. I swear to God to you, these people, they stood by us."

The city claims [that West Palm] Food Not Bombs and another group that feeds the homeless by the fountain, Art and Compassion, were offered alternative distribution locations downtown.

Hunt explains [that] since Centennial Square is a public park, they shouldn't have to move.

He calls it an ideal location because of the tables, chairs, water fountains and access to restrooms inside the library.

[West Palm] Food Not Bombs says they're planning a lawsuit against the city and will continue serving meals outside the library every Saturday despite the new law.

Hunt Was overheard saying, "Breaking the law never felt so good."

Monday, October 1, 2007

Orlando: Home of Unenforceable Laws


Orlando: Home of unenforceable laws

By Dan Moffett

Palm Beach Post Editorial Writer

Sunday, September 30, 2007

A government can get full of itself from time to time and think that it can solve a complicated problem by holding a meeting and passing a new law.

Hubris and frustration form a lethal combination in the hands of power.

So it was in West Palm Beach last week, when Mayor Lois Frankel used her vote to break a deadlocked city commission and push through a new ordinance that bans the feeding of homeless people near the library and amphitheater downtown.

The law is intended to satisfy Clematis Street merchants who have complained that gatherings of homeless people are driving away business. Church groups and political activists henceforth will be prohibited from handing out food in the public places.

Before diving headfirst into what figures to be a sinkhole of constitutional quicksand, Mayor Frankel should have studied closer the experiences of her old pal Buddy Dyer, the mayor of Orlando. The two served together as ranking Democrats in the Legislature.

Mayor Dyer has one of the worst homeless problems in the state. Estimates put the population around Orlando at more than 8,000.

Last year, he heard the same complaints from business and tourism officials that Mayor Frankel is hearing. With Mayor Dyer's blessing, the Orlando city commission passed an ordinance regulating the feeding of large groups in downtown parks. Within weeks, the Central Florida ACLU filed suit in federal court arguing that the law is unconstitutional.

But forget about constitutionality for a moment. Let's look at enforcement.

In April, Orlando police actually sent a team of undercover officers to shut down a coalition of groups - antiwar activists such as [Orlando] Food Not Bombs, [Orlando] CodePink [Women for Peace] and [the] Young Communist [League] - who were trying to circumvent the law on a technicality: It prohibited feeding more than 25 people, so each group purported to serve only 24.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, plainclothes police shot photos from the bushes and counted how many ladles of vegetable stew the activists served. When the 30th homeless person walked off with a full plate, the police moved in and arrested [Eric Montanez,] a 21-year-old [member of Orlando Food Not Bombs] and put him in jail.

Then police collected a vial of the stew as evidence. It wasn't exactly the kind of duty they had in mind back when they entered the academy.

But the city has all sorts of homeless laws that must be enforced.

It is illegal to be caught in a horizontal position on a park bench in Orlando. Bathing or shaving in a public restroom is prohibited. It is illegal to wash clothes in the downtown park. And don't even think about sleeping in the shrubs and bushes.

Panhandling has been a chronic problem, and Orlando has tried all sorts of laws to restrict it after the courts rejected an outright ban - including issuing ID cards to panhandlers, limiting them to daytime hours, and, seven years ago, restricting beggars to 36, 3-by-15-foot blue squares painted on downtown sidewalks.

Now, how well do you think that blue-square idea has worked?

Orlando has proved conclusively that government cannot solve the homeless problem by writing new laws. Ask the city police who have to enforce them or the city attorneys who have to defend them in court. Or, ask the downtown merchants who see no improvements and still are complaining.

The best chance government has of making gains against this complex social problem is to work harder with charitable groups who do not come with political or overtly religious agendas - groups that want to help chronically homeless people with their underlying physical, mental and substance-abuse problems.

In West Palm Beach, that means the United Way, the Salvation Army, the Lord's Place and dozens of churches that provide services to poor people for the right reasons.

Mayor Frankel has her new ordinance. Soon, she will have the new problems that go with it. Orlando knows what's coming.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Statement by West Palm Food Not Bombs

The statement below was issued by West Palm Food Not Bombs in response to the city's passage of an anti-homeless food sharing ordinance on Sept. 24.


West Palm Beach Food Not Bombs is a volunteer group of concerned citizens dedicated to helping feed those in need. We believe that food should be a right and not a privilege. We stand in outright opposition to the new ordinance banning food distribution at the parks in downtown West Palm Beach. We were willing to cooperate in finding a solution amenable to all, but with the commission refusing to show a similar interest, we no longer feel cooperation is possible.

We feel the ordinance violates our constitutional rights and those of the homeless population here in West Palm. The only other locations offered us by the city are churches and most are too far away to be practical. While we appreciate and respect the charitable work done by local religious groups, Food Not Bombs is a secular group that seeks to help the poor and defend their human rights, so we do not see a religious venue as an acceptable option. Religious affiliation should not be a prerequisite for helping others. Furthermore, none of the other parks in the downtown vicinity are equipped with restrooms, drinking fountains, tables or chairs.

[City] Commissioner Robinson spoke about flexibility and the need to compromise. The City Commission was unreceptive to any suggestions for compromise and showed zero flexibility in regards to the ordinance. Therefore it is now upon us to be flexible and mold to their desires. Even though Mayor Frankel emphasized the fact that she and the city are not heartless and truly are compassionate, it is impossible to believe her when in the same hearing that she voted to outlaw feeding the homeless she shared her desire to ban food distribution in all West Palm Beach parks, all the while staring directly at the homeless people sitting in the front row. Therefore it became clear to us that accommodating this new ordinance would only lead to us having to do the same at the next location. Commissioner Mitchell agreed, saying in regards to changing our food sharing location to another park, "if we did that, then we would just be hearing from another group that we moved it in front of."

Furthermore, we see absolutely no reason as to why we should sacrifice our constitutional rights and those of the homeless/ This is not about getting attention and finding a way to cause problems as Mayor Frankel suggested. The Mayor started this fight and put us in the situation we are in, forcing us to either give away our rights or stand and protect them. In his essay Civil Disobedience, Henry David Thoreau said, "Under a government which imprisons unjustly, the only true place for a just man is also a prison." If they intend to put us in jail for feeding the indigent, then so be it. We shall go proudly, knowing that ours is the right side of justice and equality.

This entire charade of legality does nothing to solve the problems in downtown. Never was any proof, beyond discriminatory speculation, given that the problems spoken of had anything to do with our sharing food at the Centennial Fountain Park in downtown. The fact is all of those issues already have laws on the books to address them. If there is anyone to blame, it should be negligent law enforcement failing to address these infractions of the law. Blaming all of the problems on the homeless is ridiculous.

Most criminal activity is not from the homeless population. The homeless are afraid for their lives and exist constantly on guard. The people that are victimized and suffering the most are not the condo owners and business operators nor the downtown patrons -- it is the people forced to live out in the streets. The homeless get robbed all the time, they get beaten and raped, pushed aside, spat on, and disrespected, not to mention undermined by the city officials who should be trying to help them, not take away their rights and resources. Ronald Reagan said, "Protecting the rights of the least individual among us is basically the only excuse the government has for existing."

This ordinance is a complete mockery of the justice system and of the Constitution. As such, when deciding what course of action to take from here, only one option began to resoundingly stand out from the others. If we are to cede to their discriminatory ordinance now, it will be that much easier for them to criminalize and ban other activities and locations, slowly removing all of our rights and all of the resources the homeless have for assistance. The Fourteenth Amendment states:

"All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

In addition, the First Amendment grants all of us freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of expression. We cannot turn our backs on our rights and those of our brothers and sisters. If we allow this to continue, there is no telling where it will stop.

To abandon the needs of the most impoverished is unacceptable and outrageous. We are furious with the mayor's stance and do not intend to give up our civil liberties so easily. We choose to stay at the library and fight this absurd ordinance because someone must, or else we will all slowly lose our rights one by one. It must end somewhere. It shouldn't go any further. We say it must end here. We refuse to be flexible with our rights. We refuse to compromise justice. We must unite against this grave injustice if we care at all about liberty and the rights of humanity.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007




In a surprise development, late this afternoon, after getting a few media calls--WFTV-Channel 9, WDBO-AM (580), Orlando Weekly, the City of Orlando backed down. From now on, everyone, not just those who care to pay for the privilege, will be able to use the tables and chairs at the Lake Eola Park picnic area. The "No Trespassing" signs have even been taken down.

The City, naturally, tried to get us to believe that this whole situation had been a "mistake" or a "misunderstanding." They even went so far as to blame a park ranger for deciding to padlock the fence gates. How pathetic. We know better, of course. The changes, including the padlocks, to the picnic area that initiated this latest skirmish between the City and Orlando Food Not Bombs and homeless activists have two possible sources. One is the Mayor's Office; the other is the Downtown Development Board. Take your pick. Both are determined to leave no stone unturned when it comes to finding measures they believe will make the homeless feel unwelcome downtown. To them human beings and human needs and rights are unimportant compared to helping developers, gentrifiers and businesspeople make more money.

This time, however, the City did something to the homeless that also greatly deprived and inconvenienced the citizens who live in the Eola Heights and Thornton Park neighborhoods. That may have begun to erode support for future inhumane and unnecessary measures that further criminalize homelessness.

Note: Articles from Channel 9 are below the pictures.


City Of Orlando Unlocks Gate At Park After Facing Questions

POSTED: 3:40 pm EDT September 26, 2007
UPDATED: 5:22 pm EDT September 26, 2007

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The city of Orlando made changes after Eyewitness News started asking questions about a controversial decision to lock up picnic tables and chairs at Lake Eola Park.

The city says the new fence around a public picnic area has nothing to do with the homeless feeding that goes on there every Wednesday, but some people don't buy it and only Wednesday afternoon did the city agreed to unlock the gates that were keeping everyone out.

The new black metal fence came with a bold message, telling people they are not allowed inside on the blue picnic tables and chairs at Lake Eola Park in downtown Orlando. There were even padlocks on the gates to make sure.

"I don't understand why," Jennifer Tussel told Eyewitness News.

She came to Lake Eola Park to spend some time outdoors with her baby, Violet.

"We should be able to sit there. I don't see why not. We work hard every day," Tussel said.

The city said a farmer's market that operates there on Sundays got a permit to serve beer and wine, but an area had to be gated off for people to drink. The park manager told Eyewitness News the gates were to remain locked on the other days to prevent vandalism.

"Taxpayers obviously pay for these, why shouldn't they be available to everybody?" Eyewitness News reporter Eric Rasmussen asked Lake Eola Park Manager Leo Falcon.

"They are available, if they want to rent it, they can rent it," he said, laughing.

But after asking that question, city officials said the locks would come off and the "no trespassing" signs would come down. They insist the fence had nothing to do with an on-going battle to stop homeless feeding at the park, but homeless advocates say everyone suffers.

"The people who live in this neighborhood and other parts of Orlando pay taxes to build and maintain this park and all of a sudden they're being deprived of the use of one of the amenities of this park and we think that's wrong," said Ben Markeson, an advocate for the homeless.

The city told Eyewitness News the decision to permanently lock up the area was a mistake and the gates should remain open.

Copyright 2007 by All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

City Fences Off Picnic Area That Group Uses To Feed Homeless

POSTED: 11:24 am EDT September 26, 2007

ORLANDO, Fla. -- A controversial group that feeds the homeless claims the city of Orlando fenced off a picnic area at Lake Eola to keep them from helping the hungry.

A "no trespassing" sign was posted on the black metal fence that now surrounds the picnic tables in the park.

The group [Orlando] Food Not Bombs believes the fence was put up to keep them and the homeless out.

The city has not yet commented on why the fence was put up.


source: Orlando Weekly blog


Either the people who run City Hall are effectively, deficiently retarded, or they're trying really, really hard to reclaim this city's rightful place on the National Coalition for the Homeless' annual list of meanest cities. Between the repeat crackdowns on people whose sole crime is feeding people who otherwise would go without food, to banning panhandlers from begging at night, and this, you get the sense that Dyer and Co. are doing their level best to eradicate the city's homeless population from their downtown white yuppie paradise, which is going to shit anyway with the rest of the goddamned overpriced condo market.

If you're too lazy to follow that link, don't worry. Here's the gist: Orlando Food Not Bombs, as bombastic and petulant and annoyingly hippie as they are, has been feeding homeless people in Lake Eola Park for the last couple years, despite the city's best efforts to force them out (including an arrest, which I wrote about here). Some genius under Dyer's employ - though the city hasn't returned my calls to tell me who, exactly - came up with a brilliant solution to the FNB "problem": Fence off Lake Eola Park, and require a permit to use the picnic tables.

Get a permit. To use a public park. The city's premier, spotlight park. In the middle of the day.

You read that right. We'll be putting up pictures here soon.

It didn't take long for this "plan" to dissemble. In fact, it took about one media report, which aired on Channel 9, for the city to, um, reassess or something. I fielded a phone call a few minutes back from FNB dude Ben Markeson, who informed me that the city has opened the gates and claims it was all some big misunderstanding or something and they really didn't want to keep the homeless out, except that, of course, they do.

I don't know about you, but I'm feeling slightly embarrassed to live here. More details forthcoming.

Posted by: Jeffrey Billman on 9/26/2007 3:17:28 PM

Monday, September 24, 2007

City's Arrogance Knows No Bounds

Released Sept. 24, 2007

City's Arrogance Knows No Bounds As It Restricts Access to Lake Eola Picnic Tables to Paying "Customers"

The City of Orlando once again has shown that it will stop at nothing to drive the homeless out of public spaces such as parks and to try to stop groups that help them from using public spaces to do so. To achieve this goal, it is willing to inconvenience citizens and deny them access to the public amenities that their tax dollars pay for.

Within the last few days, the City has finished erecting a fence around the trees in the center of the picnic area at Lake Eola Park (the corner of Central and Osceola). It has placed the tables and chairs that formerly were on the circular brick walkway of the picnic area into the new fenced-off area and has put padlocks on the fence gates. It also has posted "No Trespassing" signs on two sides of the fence. Our understanding is that from now on only those who have paid rent to use the picnic area will be entitled to use the tables and chairs.

Orlando Food Not Bombs has been sharing every Wednesday at the Lake Eola picnic area for more than two years. It has continued to do so despite the fact that the City last year passed an ordinance that basically bans food sharings inside Lake Eola Park and more than three dozen other downtown parks. In recent months, Orlando Food Not Bombs has been joined at its sharings by other local groups who also bring food because of their desire to help the homeless, to show solidarity with FNB and to express their opposition to the ordinance. (OFNB is a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit against the "large groups feeding" ordinance that will come to trial in June of 2008.) The City is, of course, greatly mistaken if it thinks that this petty action will keep homeless people out of the park, or deter Orlando Food Not Bombs and its allies from sharing food with them.

OFNB's sharings only last around 2-2 1/2 hours once a week; however, the City is so determined that the homeless get the message they are not welcome in downtown Orlando that it apparently doesn't give a damn about how its actions affect other citizens. Thanks to the arrogance of the Dyer administration those who live and work near the park have one less place where they can consume a bag lunch, rest, read or whatever. although Orlando's citizens pay taxes to build and maintain public facilities such as the picnic area the City is telling them that iif they wish to use this particular public facility they must rent it. Civic boosters and elected officials like to talk about how Orlando is on the cusp of becoming a "world class" city, but it's hard to see how citizens can have the sort of lifestyle that would seem to be in keeping with that exalted status when they city keeps restricting how they can use public parks. We are sure some Orlando residents will find this sort of treatment to be unacceptable and outrageous, and will wish to express themselves to the public officials who are supposed to represent citizens in the halls of government.

We hope that Orlandoans will realize that the changes to the park, besides being a high-handed way to treat those to whom the park supposedly belongs, represents something even uglier. It is another shameful attempt to practice discrimination against homeless people by seeking to deny them access to public facilities based upon the fact that they are destitute and homeless. Creating a category of second-class citizenship for poor and homeless people should not be tolerated by anyone who believes in equality, democracy and basic decency.

Contacts for Orlando public officials.

Phone: 407-246-2221
Fax: 407-246-2842

407-246-3010 Fax

407-246-3010 Fax

407-246-3010 Fax

407-246-3010 Fax

Commissioner Daisy W. Lynum
407-246-3010 Fax

Commissioner Samuel B. Ings
407-246-3010 Fax

Friday, September 21, 2007

Article on Fort Lauderdale FNB

954 Represent!
By John Linn
Published: September 6, 2007

There’s something admirable about having intense pride for the city you live in. Still, that type of dedication is a rare commodity here in Fort Lauderdale, a city full of people that hail from elsewhere. But for Jadis Mercado and the crew working at (954) Food Not Bombs, commitment to Fort Lauderdale and all its people is what has driven them each Friday at 3 p.m. to Stranahan Park (Corner of Broward Blvd. and Andrews Ave., Fort Lauderdale), where they serve food to Fort Lauderdale’s extensive homeless population.

You’d think that young people spontaneously offering charity to the obviously needy would be a good thing. but, according to Mercado, reaction to the meals has been mixed. On August 3, Mercado says that Fort Lauderdale police broke up their festivities and threatened to arrest the FnB crew if it returned (a police representative could not be reached for comment). Despite the risk, the collective showed up the following week – only this time with over 150 supporters in tow. Mercado says the police have since retracted their pressure, allowing FnB to continue their efforts unhindered.

And now, the FnB collective has decided to hold a free concert this Tuesday in Stranahan Park to celebrate both the success of the group and the birthday of the 954 area code (which was created on September 11, 1995). Mercado’s band, the Lepracy, will perform alongside fellow experimental noise-core groups the Black Republican Caucus, Mad Holy Cow Disease, and Adjective Noun, all sponsored by FnB’s sister organization, (954) Noise Not Bombs. There will be free food for the homeless at 3 p.m., followed by the concert at 7. Visit
Fridays, 3 p.m., 2007

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Lake Eola Ladle Fest: Oct. 8-10

International Call for Solidarity with Orlando Food Not Bombs:
Lake Eola Ladle Fest!
Oct. 8-10

On April 4th, Eric Montanez became the first Food Not Bombs member in Orlando arrested under the City's anti-homeless food sharing ordinance. That measure, aimed at Orlando FNB and other groups that help hungry and homeless people, bans unpermitted food sharings of more than 25 people in more than three dozen downtown parks. Groups only are allowed two one-time permits per per park in a 12-month period. Eric's trial starts Mon., Oct. 8. In addition, five other FNB comrades arrested under a City noise ordinance while drumming outside a fund-raising event for Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer have a pre-trial hearing on Oct. 10.

Eric is, of course, one of hundreds of Food Not Bombs members arrested over our movement's more than 25-year history for the "crime" of sharing food with the hungry and homeless and directly challenging the poverty and inequality that make FNB necessary. His trial will set a precedent that will affect FNB and other anti-poverty groups throughout the country; so what happens to Eric and Orlando Food Not Bombs should be of concern to all of us. Cities and developers around the country are keeping a watchful eye on Orlando to see what they may be able to get away with. The City and business interests need to know that we will not let them take away our rights and tighten thescrews on the poor and homeless through gentrification and criminalizing homelessness. To put pressure on the City, we will hold Lake Eola Ladle Fest--a three-day event in Lake Eola Park in the very spot where Eric was arrested by more than a dozen uniformed and undercover Orlando police for ladling out stew to the homeless.

From Oct. 8-10, we would like FNB members from around the country to stand in solidarity with Eric, OFNB, and the local poor and homeless by helping us share breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and also holding various events and workshops throughout the day. We hope to attract as many of our community's homeless and low-income residents, and supporters from around the country, as possible. We also as a group will walk to the courthouse each morning and we encourage people to show support for Eric by attending his trial. The third day we will hold "The March of Mimes" in support of the Cruddy Dyer-rhea Drum Corps 5--Ryan Hutchinson, Bryan Jones, Brett Mason, Eric, and Will Vertlieb--and also free speech rights.

We here in Orlando we can provide some sleeping space. People are encouraged to bring items such as canned goods, fresh veggies and prepackaged snacks to donate. Also there will be a really really free market that will be available for the homeless and low income residents, so brings things to donate to that, too.

The Lake Eola Ladle Fest begins on the morning of October 8 in the park's picnic area which is located at the corner of Central and Osceola in downtown Orlando. If you are coming the night before or have any questions, e-mail us at and we'll try to find you a place to stay at our collective house(s).

Please forward this message far and wide. We need as many people as possible to participate.

Orlando Food Not Bombs

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Bio of Orlando mayor takes center stage in cyberduel,0,53138.story

Dyer bio takes center stage in cyberduel

Mark Schlueb | Sentinel Staff Writer
(published) August 30, 2007

There's a war over Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer's biography, and it's being fought in cyberspace.

On Wikipedia, to be exact.

The online encyclopedia allows anyone with Internet access to edit entries, including Dyer's critics.

So, despite his having logged 15 years in state and local politics, about half of Dyer's biographical Wikipedia entry is about Orlando's controversial ban on feeding the homeless in city parks.

But someone at City Hall didn't take the matter lying down.

According to a new Web site that allows users to track changes to Wikipedia entries, the city's computer network was used to delete the negative information last month.

"I think it's a pretty poor use of taxpayers' money to use city workers to edit Wikipedia entries," said Ben Markeson, the homeless-rights activist who authored the offending section. "They've attempted to make changes to certain information that they find embarrassing."

It's the latest in a string of embarrassing revelations for politicians and corporations since a 24-year-old graduate student launched WikiScanner (, the program that identifies the anonymous authors of changes to Wikipedia. It works by searching Internet Protocol addresses attached to the computer networks of government agencies and corporations.

Since the program went online, users have discovered, for instance, that a passage about Wal-Mart wages being "about 20 percent less" than those of competitors was changed by someone on a Wal-Mart network computer to say the retailer's average wage "is almost double the federal minimum wage."

Members of the group Orlando Food Not Bombs have been a thorn in Dyer's side since the city passed an ordinance last year that restricts homeless-aid groups from feeding groups larger than 25 people in city parks. Some members have defied the ordinance and challenged it in federal court.

In June, six members were arrested for violating the noise ordinance by banging on drums outside a fundraiser for Dyer's re-election campaign.

Meanwhile, Dyer's Wikipedia entry includes only two outdated and incomplete sentences about the downtown venues approved last month, and one short paragraph about his arrest on an election-law violation and subsequent return to office after being cleared.

But, thanks to Markeson, it now contains a much lengthier section on the homeless feeding controversy and the ensuing protests.

The section was added July 7. On July 11, someone using a City Hall computer anonymously deleted the entire section. On Sunday, Markeson put it back.

Carson Chandler, Dyer's spokesman, said there's no way to tell who edited the mayor's entry. But doing so wouldn't violate city policy because staffers are allowed to browse the Web while on their lunch hour or break as long as they don't visit objectionable sites, he said.

"It could have come from anyone on a city computer," Chandler said. "It wasn't the mayor -- I can say that with certainty."

Mark Schlueb can be reached at or 407-420-5417.



So remember a few weeks back when something called WikiScanner was all the rage for like 28 minutes because it allowed you to find out who was altering Wikipedia pages, which are of course totally reliable. The fun part was that we all found out that government and media officials have way too much time on their hands, and busied themselves by using the Internet to trash competitors (Fox News), delete scandals (Diebold) or otherwise better their online reputations (the CIA).

Apparently, some brown-noser down at Orlando's City Hall is no different. According to WikiScanner, on July 11, at 5:40 p.m. - 40 minutes after close of business, so I suppose not on city time - someone from IP address altered Buddy Dyer's Wikipedia entry; basically it removed a long-winded rant by Orlando's Favorite Anarchist™ Ben Markeson on how Buddy hates homeless people and how the brave young souls of are protesting a lot and getting arrested. Of course, Ben's tirade was like six paragraphs longer than the bit about the venues or Buddy's 2005 arrest - you know, the unimportant shit - but whatever, this is the Internet, where any dipshit with a modem gets to add to the historical record.

Anyway, Mr. or Mrs. IP address went online and erased that section, which actually made the Buddy Wiki that much more readable. But as it turns out, Mr. or Mrs. IP address actually belongs to City of Orlando, Information Services, according to

"I think it's like something out of 1984 and I find it disturbing that they
eliminate information they find embarrassing or inconvenient," Ben tells us. He put the disputed section back up, and it's there today (as of this writing).

Anyway, we called city spokesgal Heather Allebaugh for comment, and she said she didn't know anything about that and had only recently discovered that Wikipedia entries can in fact be altered by anyone, and thus are not quite impervious to chicanery. "When we saw it [the WikiScanner story] nationally, I thought, 'Thank God we've never done anything like that," Allebaugh says.

Or not. Anyway, Mr. or Mrs. IP address is apparently a pretty avid Wiki editor, and has altered entries on everything from Major League Soccer's expansion draft (Dec. 1, 2006, 2:55 pm; that's within business hours) to "List of Student Newspapers" (July 19, 2006, 7:55 pm) to "International Accounting Standards Board" (March 14, 3:34 pm) among a bunch of others.

We've put in a public records request to find out where exactly IP address is located. We'll keep you posted.

—Jeffrey Billman

Note by Ben: What i wrote isn't a "rant." It's actually pretty even-handed in explaining why some people support the ordinance and is factual throughout. And i expanded the section on Dyer's arrest for campaign-law violations.

Here's the section in question:

He was re-elected in 2004 in a regular election, narrowly avoiding a runoff with challenger Ken Mulvaney. Mulvaney subsequently alleged election fraud by Dyer. An investigation into the matter by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement led a grand jury to bring charges against the mayor, his campaign manager, and an election consultant for paying someone to gather absentee ballots in Orlando's African American community. Such payments are illegal under Florida law. In March 2005 Dyer was suspended by Governor Jeb Bush in accordance with the Florida Constitution. In April 2005 the charges were dismissed and he was reinstated as mayor.

One controversial issue that Dyer has faced during his tenure as mayor has been his support for an Orlando ordinance (passed in July 2006) that, essentially, bans the sharing of food with groups of 25 or more people inside more than three dozen downtown parks.

Proponents of the "large group feedings" ordinance, including elected officials such as Dyer and District 4 City Commissioner Patty Sheehan, contend that the measure is necessary to reduce the crime they say is caused by the presence of large numbers of homeless individuals in the downtown area and to protect the quality of life, including the ability to enjoy public parks, of residents in downtown neighborhoods. Opponents of the ordinance contend that it criminalizes compassion by stopping groups from sharing food with the homeless inside city parks, discriminates against the homeless based upon their socio-economic status, and does not do anything to address the root causes of homelessness--such as the lack of affordable housing and the lack of enough shelter beds and mental-health and substance-abuse treatment.

One of the groups that has been most active and outspoken in its opposition to the ordinance and Dyer is Orlando Food Not Bombs (OFNB), which has shared food inside Lake Eola Park for more than two years. An OFNB member, Eric Montanez, became, on April 4, 2007, the first person arrested under the ordinance, which is a misdemeanor carrying penalties of up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. His trial will start on Sept. 10, 2007. The group is one of the plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit (filed in October 2006) that challenges the constitutionality of the ordinance. On May 16, 2007, more than 50 OFNB members and allies staged a protest against Dyer while he held a campaign fundraiser at the Urban Think! Bookstore, which is only a few hundred yards from the Lake Eola Park picnic area. On June 27, 2007, six members of OFNB--Jonathan Giralt, Ryan Hutchinson, Bryan Jones, Brett Mason, Eric Montanez, and Will Vertlieb--were arrested for allegedly violating a noise ordinance during a protest held outside of a downtown restaurant hosting a Dyer campiagn fund-raiser. The charge against Giralt, a juvenile, was dropped by the Orange-Osceola State Attorney at his initial court appearance on July 27. The other five arrestees, all adults, will be tried by the City Prosecutor, although a trial date has not been set.

OFNB is also a coalition member of S.T.O.P.--Stop the Ordinance Partnership, a group formed to engage in political advocacy on issues of homelessness in Central Florida. On Dec. 5, 2006 S.T.O.P. members protested inside a Christmas event sponsored by Dyer at Orlando City Hall. A S.T.O.P. member dressed as Santa Claus [Ben Markeson] handed out fliers criticizing the mayor and several city commissioners for their support of the anti-homeless feeding ordinance.

Evidence recently has come to light that strongly suggests that the Dyer administration has been using paid City employees to edit this entry regularly to eliminate the information about the "large group feedings" ordinance and Orlando Food Not Bombs. Apparently the Mayor considers this information to be politically embarassing.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Z Mag Article on Orlando Food Not Bombs

Source: Z Magazine Online

July / August 2007 Volume 20 Number 7/8

Helping the Homeless

The Right To Food

By Dan Read

Eric Montanez could hardly be considered a criminal. As a volunteer with [Orlando] Food not Bombs (FNB), Montanez worked distributing food to the homeless in his native Orlando, Florida. Just 21 years of age, he is one of many volunteers who serve meals to the hungry and work to create a community atmosphere with those in need. If you find yourself wondering how such a person could be considered a clear and present danger requiring police intervention, nobody could blame you.

But on April 4, Montanez was working his usual stint, dishing out rice and stew to 30 or so dispossessed citizens that populate Orlando’s streets. Meanwhile, his actions were being monitored by two plainclothes police officers, who called for assistance to arrest Montanez and take a vial of stew as evidence of his crime.

Despite vibrant protest from other FNB volunteers, he was swiftly hauled off to a local police station. Phone calls to the mayor and other civic officials were not returned, but fortunately Montanez was released from custody later in the day after posting bail.

Montanez was the first to be arrested under a new city ordinance against “large group feedings.” Aimed at stopping individuals or groups from feeding the poor and homeless, the new rule claims to address the concerns of business owners who fear that customers may be put off shopping by the sight of a “rough sleeper.” Other Orlando residents have also complained that parks are being “turned into soup kitchens,” despite the fact that such activities fulfill a vital role in the lives of many of the city’s poor.

Even though the official word coming from local government is that the legislation would not be enforced until ratified by a court decision in 2008, unofficially the Orlando Police Department appears eager to begin. Keith McHenry, one of the co-founders of FNB, commented that the recent police actions amount to “a pattern of trying to drive the homeless out of sight.” Indeed, it’s hard to imagine any other reason for the city ordinance other than restricting the movements of the homeless to preordained areas, paving the way for further gentrification of working class neighborhoods and brushing poverty under the carpet. Such measures have been tried on and off over several years, with authorities in a number of urban areas across America often toying with the idea of reintroducing them, despite the staunch resistance they have provoked in the past.

Unfortunately, after having been inspired by the example of Las Vegas—which has successfully cracked down on the feeding of the homeless in city parks—various Orlando political figures seem eager to quash any further resistance. Orlando FNB is now witnessing a constant police presence at their feedings, with officers on at least one occasion being fully outfitted in SWAT uniforms. FNB feels that the police presence is intended to intimidate both the volunteers and the homeless, in the process paving the way for the expected full- scale implementation of the ban next year.

A Turbulent History

The situation may not be as grim as some fear. FNB has a proud history of vocal opposition to anti- poor legislation, having endured widespread surveillance and persecution over the course of its existence. Since its beginning in 1980 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, FNB now has hundreds of chapters, each playing an important role in the lives of the homeless. Activists not only hand out food, but also political literature that takes a strong stand against the occupation of Iraq and the ongoing “war on terror.”

Over its 27 year existence it has been a vocal component of the wider progressive movement for peace and social change. The first recorded arrest of a volunteer was on August 15, 1988, when nine activists were taken into custody at Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. Over the next 9 years, over 1,000 similar arrests took place; 700 of them directly due to an alleged violation of a court order prohibiting the feeding of homeless citizens.

FNB has been dubbed one of the country’s “most hardcore terrorist groups” by the U.S. military. How such a label could be applied was difficult to see, but after September 11, FNB clearly lived up to its “terrorist reputation” by supplying hot meals to rescue workers returning from the disaster area. In the wake of the Asian Tsunami, FNB helped feed many who might otherwise have gone without. In New Orleans FNB volunteers were among the first to respond after Hurricane Katrina.

In a climate of fear, it does not take much for organizations opposed to the status quo to be branded as “terrorists,” no matter how absurd it may seem. The difficulties affecting FNB and other organizations are a reflection of the current reactionary epoch. In order to change, we need a refreshing breeze of progressive politics to counter the stuffy rhetoric of capitalism and stake a claim to a future where food is not a privilege, but a universal right.


Dan Read is an activist based in the UK.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Federal Judge Strikes Down Vegas' Ban on Homeless Food Sharings

Vegas Ban on Feeding Homeless Struck

By Associated Press
8:10 PM EDT, August 23, 2007

LAS VEGAS - A federal judge permanently barred the city from preventing people from feeding the homeless in parks, but upheld some other park restrictions that critics targeted as equally unfair.

The ruling Wednesday by U.S. District Judge Robert Jones allows the city to continue to enforce other laws, including trespassing laws, permit requirements for park gatherings of more than 25 people and the right to designate certain park areas for children's use only.

Jones ruled that the plaintiffs had not met the burden of showing that the laws showed a discriminatory intent.

"The City has a significant government interest in protecting children and providing public parks for their safe enjoyment," Jones wrote.

The ruling is the latest development in a 14-month-old federal court battle between the city and civil liberties and homeless advocates.

Allen Lichtenstein, general counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, said he plans to appeal.

City Attorney Brad Jerbic said the ruling affirms the city's position that the trespassing ordinances were solely intended to discourage criminal behavior in parks. One ordinance allows marshals to ban individuals from parks if they commit crimes on city property.

"It never had to do with being homeless; it had to do with conduct," Jerbic said.

Homeless advocate Gail Sacco [of Las Vegas Food Not Bombs], a plaintiff in the case who frequently hands out food and water in parks, said she is glad the ordinance prohibiting that was permanently blocked. But she is concerned about the law requiring permits for large gatherings because it's hard to predict how many people will show up when she is at a park.

"We aren't doing this to be arrogant," Sacco said. "We go where people are hungry. The food is a way to build a sense of community."

Upcoming Orlando Food Not Bombs Sharings

Sun., Aug. 26: 1 p.m. @ Downey Park, corner of Dean Rd. & E. Colonial Dr., e. Orlando area. More info:

Wed., Aug. 29: 5 p.m. @ Lake Eola Park picnic area, corner of Osceola St. & Central Blvd., downtown Orlando. More info:

Thurs., Aug. 30: 5 p.m.; free store/free grocery day; giveaway of produce and other items @ the corner of South St. & Hicks, in Orlando's Parramore neighborhood. More info: