HAPPYTOWN 


;For the last year and a half, Orlando Food Not Bombs has fed homeless people vegetarian food in Lake Eola Park on Wednesday afternoons. No more. At least not legally.

;;At the June 19 Orlando City Council meeting, the board approved a new ordinance that would effectively shut Food Not Bombs down. Even though the ordinance doesn't mention Food Not Bombs specifically, it's east to read between the lines. Follow along: Under the new law, which passed by a 5-2 vote on its first reading — to be followed by a likely slam-dunk second and final vote in two weeks — large "group feedings" in public parks and facilities around downtown would require a permit. And those permits would be limited to two per group per year. In other words, two Food Not Bombs feedings a year, not 52.

;;This isn't the first time the city has tried to run service providers for the homeless out of Lake Eola. Three years ago, the city forced out The Ripple Effect, another feed-the-homeless nonprofit. But our fair city didn't do it by force of law — they just harassed Ripple Effect until the nonprofit decided to move their feedings to a less-visible public spot — America Street and Silvia Lane, to the west of the 408, about a 10-minute walk from downtown — one that didn't offend the city's ban on blight. (Ripple Effect executive director Bob Decker reports that their current feeding site doesn't have any bathroom facilities, which Lake Eola Park does.)

;;After Food Not Bombs started dishing out food downtown in January 2005, it didn't take long for a fresh round of problems to arise. Last May, members told Happytown™ that they were chased out of Heritage
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;Square Park by overzealous cops who told them the group needed a permit and that downtown was a "no feeding" zone. Neither of those things was true at the time. But that fact, to city commissioner Patty Sheehan, is why pencils have erasers.

;;Responding to the complaints of downtown business owners who found the unsightly swarm of homeless disruptive, Sheehan proposed the rule change, saying she doesn't think it's fair for city parks to be a "24/7 soup kitchen." Supporters of the anti-homeless ordinance, residents and businesspeople alike, complained that the feedings attract homeless people to the area who don't leave after they're done eating — what nerve! — which in turn increases crime and hurts tourism. They say the homeless people make them feel unsafe and that they leave trash behind.

;;Food Not Bombs members showed up in force too, first in a pre-meeting protest outside City Hall and then inside the meeting itself, where nearly two dozen activists pleaded their case to the council, while scores more applauded them loudly (even after the mayor told them not to). They disputed the reports that their feedings leave messes and argued that access to food is a right, not a privilege. Orlando's favorite anarchist, Ben Markeson, told us in so many words that the ordinance was only going to help snooty, rich white folks who don't like having to see bums on their morning jog.

;;Five hours into the meeting, the council finally voted. The two newest members, Sam Ings and Robert Stuart, voted no. Ings opposed it because he thought the problems could be remedied without an overarching ban, perhaps by fining groups that don't clean up. Stuart, who himself runs a charity that helps the homeless, said that, at the ordinance's second reading, he'd offer an amendment to sunset it after one year. And more to the point, he told the council the new law was unenforceable and only looks at a symptom of homelessness, rather than attacking the problem in general.

;;Stuart's right. As many of the speakers noted, the city has for so long taken an "out of sight, out of mind" approach to its growing homeless problem that it now glosses over the real, deep-seated issues. One homeless man, Daniel Abernathy, put it best: "The feeding is not the problem," he said. "The problem is they're homeless."

;;The battle isn't over yet. The ACLU will probably sue, and at least one Food Not Bombs member told the Orlando Sentinel that they're going to keep feeding the hungry and homeless in Lake Eola Park, whether the city likes it or not.

;

;Perhaps you too heard that Austin Coffee and Film was closing down? When we heard it, we thought it's just like this town to run out the places with character, and this tiny joint on Fairbanks Avenue is one of them. Local musicians play in an insanely small space, regulars stop in for their daily cup of joe or an imported beer, disheveled artsy kids smoke cigs on the patio, would-be patrons desperately seek (and don't find) parking. So when a little birdie told us that owner Joe Royall was closing April 26, we said, "Great, what's next?"

;;Turns out we were wrong. Yeah, Royall was getting out of the coffee shop business because he says labor costs made it impossible to turn a profit. So he was going to close it. But his patrons had other plans. One of them, Stephen Moore, decided to buy the business, and Royall agreed to keep it open until they sealed the deal. That happened June 5. Moore, an artist, assumed control along with his brother Sean and sister-in-law Jackie Oswalt, who both have experience in the restaurant business. Their strategy: Keep it the same, do more of the work themselves.

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SEMI-REGULAR FEATURE:

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RATE THE PROTEST

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;What: "Faith and Fairness"

;;When/Where: June 15, First Unitarian Church of Orlando

;;Scene: You gotta be leery of those crazy left-wing churchgoers … um, whaaa? There they were, about 200 people gathered for a conference called "Faith and Fairness: Finding Strength and Tools for Advocacy in Your Faith Tradition." The event was sponsored by 22 organizations, including the Human Rights Campaign and Equality Florida, both gay-rights groups. In that vein, the point was that religions shouldn't be hostile to homosexuals. As one speaker noted, Jesus said not a word about homosexuality. Another pointed out that the Kama Sutra embraces same-sex couples. The Rev. Dr. Miguel A. de la Torre put it best: "One can use the Bible to justify bigotry, racism and hatred of homosexuals. Some gods need to die. A god of sexism, racism, bigotry and homophobia needs to die."

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;;Our Rating: 8 (out of 10)  

; happytown@orlandoweekly.com

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