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N E W T I ME S B R O WA R D -P A L MB E A C H
| C O N T E N T S | T H E P U L P | N I G H T +D A Y | A R T | F I L M | D I S H | M U S I C |
ate one afternoon this summer in Lake Eola Park, Keith McHenry got arrested— again — for trying to serve free food in public. While his compatriots weresetting up a vegan meal of vegetable stir-fry, ears of corn, and potatoes donatedfrom a local natural-food store, McHenry was on his hands and knees, using a fat marker to outline text on a large banner: “End the Criminalization of Poverty.”Lake Eola is the crown jewel of downtown Orlando. The park’s fountain shimmers atthe middle of the resplendent lake. Music plays through speakers mounted out of reach,and swan boats rest in view of offices and shiny new condominiums. Nearby signs warnthat it is illegal to “lie or otherwise be in a horizontal position on park benches” or to“sleep or remain in any bushes, shrubs or foliage.” Not a friendly place for a man who hasstaked half his life on drawing attention to the barriers between the rich and the poor.McHenry, 54, had written to the end of
when a police officerstepped up behind him with a pair of handcuffs. McHenry was used to the drill atthis point: Since he helped found the international Food Not Bombs movement withan antiwar bake sale in Harvard Square in 1980, he’s counted 150 arrests. “Almostevery single arrest has been related to Food Not Bombs,” he says. Among his guid-ing principles: Feed “everyone without restriction, rich or poor, stoned or sober.”Now, on Wednesday, June 1 — just as scores of homeless people were due to startstreaming into the park, as they had done every week since 2005 — McHenry acqui-esced as usual, going off to spend 32 hours in the Orange County jail alongside twoorganizers of the Orlando chapter of Food Not Bombs. They were bailed out the nextday, but the following week, they returned to defy the law again and share food with50, maybe 60 people. The police came back too. During June, 25 volunteers with FoodNot Bombs would be arrested at the park (although the charges were later dropped).The second time McHenry was arrested in Lake Eola Park, on June 22, he spent 17days in jail. The judge, not sympathetic to his cause, called him a “professional protester.”The reason for the arrests? For years, residents near the park had complained thatafter the meals, homeless people disbursed into their neighborhoods. In 2008, theCity Commission passed an ordinance that outlawed the serving of food to more than25 people at a time without a permit. The ordinance stipulated that a group couldserve only twice in each park. Mayor John Hugh “Buddy” Dyer said the ordinancewas intended “to be fair to individual neighborhoods” by diluting the presence of homeless people in the city’s open spaces.The Orlando Food Not Bombs chapter, along with the First Vagabonds Church of God (which has a mostly homeless congregation), challenged the law in court, buta judge in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in April of this year to uphold it.McHenry says other groups that traditionally feed the homeless — churches,nonprofits, and county-run agencies — provide only a simple palliative to those whoare stuck in the routines of poverty. They assume that “there’s nothing wrong withthe way everything is,” says McHenry, “that it’s just that these individuals have failed,and now they need this food, and [the charities are] doing a good deed by serving it.”But Food Not Bombs takes a less amenable stance. When its volunteers serve food,they’re preaching not about Jesus but about the fact that the whole damned systemthat made these people homeless is broken, broken and pathetic, and that as long as“50 cents of every dollar is going to the military,” as McHenry puts it, nobody should be denied the human right of sustenance in quiet complacence. Hence the banner.In Fort Lauderdale, a scene similar to Or-lando’s plays out in Stranahan Park, at the exactcenter of the city, adjacent to the main library at Broward Boulevard and Andrews Avenue. On any given day, homeless drifters can be found catching a nap on the grass, bumming a smoke, or conversing in the shadowof commerce. Here, every Friday at 5:30 (give or take), the Fort Lauderdale chapterof Food Not Bombs shares a meal with these people under a gazebo. Other groups,mostly small ministries, also distribute food here.But if city officials have their way, Fort Lauderdale could be the next municipality to enact an ordinance like Orlando’s, banishing mass feedings from the city’s parksand beaches. The City Attorney’s Office is currently researching case law to try toprevent these food sharings in public and confine them to a more secluded spot,safely out of sight of homes and businesses. An ordinance, if passed, could reshape the underground economy of free foodthat’s a slight but well-known comfort to some of the estimated 1,600 people whospend each night on the city’s streets. But putting a clean face on things isn’t going to be easy. Blame it on the kids.
hey sat in the grass of Stranahan Park after dinner, or a “sharing,” with the sunshining low through the trees and a few conversations echoing from the gazebo.The reusable dishes had been washed in buckets and were stacked up to dry.David Hitchcock, a lanky, crop-haired 21-year-old who had recently beenhomeless and had just shaved his legs for fun (he was drunk and bored), sat cross-legged at the edge of a circle of people. In the group were about a half-dozen of hisfellow Food Not Bombs members and three of the homeless men who’d joined themfor dinner. Hitchcock’s dog, Whisper, leaned against him in his lap. Another dog, afriendly pit bull named Bruise, squirmed on his back at the end of a leash, held loosely by Will Berger, who was hunched low with his wild-haired head above his feet.Next to Berger was Haylee Becker, 19, a small girl with brown hair pulled back in aponytail. She wore a Bob Marley T-shirt with worn-in, rolled-up jeans, canvas shoes,and a blue bandanna tied above her forehead. She apparently enjoyed leg-shaving lessthan Hitchcock did. A shakily drawn tattoo on her ankle, which has been noticed by more than one reporter on the homelessness beat, reads “Teach/Learn/Respect/Peace.”She was explaining the hand signals.Food Not Bombs chapters are run by “consensus meetings” like this. Everyonepresent should speak one at a time, without interrupting.“One person will be the moderator, and they’ll look for the signals,” Beckerexplained. “If you have something to say, raise your hand.” She raised her hand. “If you have something quick to add, do this.” She made her hands into two little guns,and fired them off in alternating succession, close to her chest.“If you think the conversation is going off topic...” She stuck her index fingers andthumbs together in a diamond shape. “If you want someone to speak up...” Palms up,lifting motion. “And if you agree with what someone’s saying, do this.” Palms face the body, fingers spread, wiggle the fingers. “Kind of like jazz hands.”“Sparkle fingers,” someone else called it.“So who wants to be moderator?”Hitchcock volunteered. The group went clockwise around the circle, each personsuggesting topics for discussion: an upcoming remembrance of Hiroshima Day, ananarcha-feminist workshop, a regional Food Not Bombs event in Fort Myers. ThenHitchcock chose people to speak.“But first, congratulations to Haylee forgetting her braces off,” he said.
BY STEFAN KAMPH