A Statement from Orlando Food Not Bombs
on Developments in Our Lawsuit Against the City
Consented to and Issued on Dec. 10, 2008
We regret that the City of Orlando has appealed the federal judge's ruling (Sept. 26) in the lawsuit we filed against the City over its "large groups feeding" ordinance. The judge found that in seeking to ban groups such as OFNB and others from sharing food with hungry and homeless individuals in downtown parks that the City had overstepped its bounds, violating constitutional protections of freedom of speech and assembly.
The judge's ruling, which gives us the right to be of service to others without any interference from the City, is still in effect (unless it is overturned by the federal appeals court in Atlanta). We will continue to share food every Monday morning and every Wednesday afternoon at our usual location, the picnic area at Lake Eola Park.
We share food because so many of our community's less affluent need it. We do this in public spaces such as parks in order to bring attention to chronic problems of hunger, poverty, inequality and homelessness in our midst. We will keep standing up for the civil liberties, human rights and dignity of the dispossessed and our right to share food with them. We will not be deterred by the City's legal maneuvers or the heavy-handed tactics that it may use against us. We are strengthened in our convictions by the outpouring of support we continue to receive from across Central Florida.
OFNB is proud to provide hot, nutritious meals to hundreds of people a week without using one penny of tax-payer money. We have not and will not receive any public funds as a result of the lawsuit. The only monies awarded have been legal fees to our lawyer, Jackie Dowd of Legal Advocacy at Work, and to lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida. We wish it to be known publicly that our only legal counsel is Ms. Dowd and that we have decided not to be represented by the ACLU in the appeals process.
We note that the $30,000 that the City appropriated for the costs of its appeal could be better spent providing much-needed services to Orlando and Central Florida's ever-expanding homeless population. More than 9,000 individuals currently are homeless in our area. Their ranks include veterans, women and children, and the working poor.
We urge the City to follow the lead of West Palm Beach, which recently settled a lawsuit brought over its anti-food sharing ordinance by agreeing to repeal the measure. The $30,000 could be better spent by the Central Florida Coalition for the Homeless or other groups in the Homeless Services Network of Central Florida who directly provide services to those in need. As the Orlando Sentinel noted in a Nov. 20 editorial, by doing this "the city would actually be helping homeless people, instead of using [the money] to figuratively spar with them in the courtroom." The money would be a drop in the bucket for a City administration which is spending more than $1 billion on venues for sporting events and rock concerts.
We also urge the City to repeal all ordinances which have the effect of criminalizing homelessness and life-sustaining activities in which the homeless must engage in order to survive. The City could help change for the better the way our community deals with social justice issues if it were to repeal the "large groups feeding ordinance" and to adopt a policy of not hindering the activities of volunteer, grassroots community groups which assist those who are marginalized and forgotten. Compassion should not be a crime, and those who want to help our brothers and sisters should be able to do so without fear of arrest, harassment and intimidation.
--Orlando Food Not Bombs