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.