Be a county watcher

Thank you for the Nov. 30 Happytown™ item on CountyWatch.

CountyWatch is a multipartisan organization in Orange County that focuses on ensuring citizen-friendly local government. We are committed to promoting open and accountable local government that listens to the concerns of its citizens and is responsive to those concerns.

CountyWatch meets monthly on the first Saturday of the month at 8 a.m. in a private room at the Denny's restaurant at 440 S. Semoran Blvd., just south of Lake Underhill Road. A great lesson in local government is had at each meeting by just attending.

Gary F. Pfister, CountyWatch

War on the homeless

In response to "One Man's Trash" `Nov. 30`: The article noted that there are other plaintiffs, besides the First Vagabonds Church of God, in the lawsuit against the city's "large group feedings" ordinance, but didn't mention that one of them is Orlando Food Not Bombs. FNB's involvement in the lawsuit is important since it bolsters the case that the ordinance violates the free speech guarantees in the U.S. and Florida constitutions. This is because FNB is not another charity, but a group that shares food as a means of expressing its political opposition to poverty, inequality, violence, militarism and war.

The article failed to note that city sanitation employees who come into Sylvia Lane daily to pick up trash have been taking photographs of the site. Despite Orlando's record-breaking 44 homicides this year, the Orlando Police Department still has the resources to spy on and harass homeless individuals whose only "crime" is trying to survive in a community that wants to drive them out rather than help them.

Your readers may be wondering about the upsurge in activism on issues of homelessness in Central Florida since the ordinance was passed on July 24, with, it should be noted, commissioners Robert Stuart and Sam Ings voting "no." The reason is that local homeless service providers; civic, religious, political and activist groups; and homeless individuals have banded together to form Stop the Ordinance Partnership. Besides working to repeal the ordinance or have it declared unconstitutional, STOP opposes any other measures that criminalize homelessness, that hinder life-sustaining activities of the homeless and that hinder the efforts of grass-roots groups that provide services, such as food, to the homeless.

Finally, I would like to point out that the "large group feedings" ordinance, which applies to more than three dozen public spaces within a two-mile radius of Orlando City Hall, requires paid permits for groups whose "feedings" are "intended to attract, attracting or likely to attract 25 or more people including distributors and servers." So this means that the number of people with whom a group can share without paying what the ordinance calls an "application fee" for a permit (if they wish to obey the law) may be less than 25. The city hasn't, so far, charged for the permits, but it could.

Ben Markeson, Orlando

Out of sight, out of mind

I wish I could say dispossessing the dispossessed was a new low for Orlando's war on the homeless `"One man's trash," Nov. 30` but the city's history in this area is bleak. The first tenet of the city's policy toward the homeless appears to be obstruction of any service which may prove useful in combating the root problem; the second tenet is to keep the homeless out of view through harassment and restrictions on the use of public space. I suppose the city has a point: People won't be upset if they can't see the things (or people) that upset them.

Curtis Lane, Winter Park


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