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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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."