Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Storage Ban Law Sued in Federal Court

In 2014, the City of Fort Lauderdale passed a series of homeless hate laws, to which this blog was dedicated to reporting on. This week, the 2014 storage ban law became the 2nd of these laws sued in Federal Court for violating the civil liberties of homeless and homeless advocates that they were created to target.

The storage ban has been a focus of controversy around Stranahan Park for some time. It was originally enforced in April 2016 by FLPD officers attaching removal notices to property stored along the sidewalk on the west side of Stranahan Park. However, enforcement seemed too controversial and poorly thought out, and the idea mostly faded away when the City and County created a de facto safe space in the grassy area in between the Main Library and Stranahan Park in November 2016.

Last month the City launched a surprise raid of the Park, resulting in many people's important belongings being thrown out without prior notice as required by the storage ban law. In a surprising and fortuitous turn of events, Florida ALCU, with the assistance of Broward Chapter ALCU, not only took an interest in fighting back but managed to sign 16 people from Stranahan Park as plaintiffs. They are joined by Southern Legal Counsel, a Gainesville area public interest law firm that is also representing Food Not Bombs in its federal lawsuit against Fort Lauderdale's sharing ban law.

Although panhandling ordinances similar to Fort Lauderdale's have been challenged or overturned in places like Pensacola and Gainesville recently, that law along with the "camping ban" and the public indecency rules affecting homeless people have yet to be challenged.

Meanwhile, Stranahan Park remains closed and City representatives have been stonewalling anyone asking them when it will be re-opened. We hope to have more news about this soon.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Surprise Eviction at Stranahan Camp

Bulldozer trashing homeless camp
Friday afternoon
Just before 3 pm on Friday, May 20th, the City of Fort Lauderdale abruptly announced the temporary closure of Stranahan Park due to health concerns.


Back in November, the City created a de-facto compromise with the help of the Main Library. Homeless people would no longer live on the sidewalk in front of Stranahan Park, but they would be permitted to stay in the small bushy areas in between the park and the library, fully on County property. The camp was allowed to take hold for quite some time, and many pallets were brought in and other ways to improve what was essentially a small patch of dirt surrounded by concrete. There was even a puppy that grew up there.

Recently, the City seems to have lost patience with the camp, whining about being seen as "weak" on homelessness at a recent joint workshop with the County, and most recently, held a secret meeting at the Women's Club last week where "dealing with homelessness" was the #1 priority.

They spoke of getting rid of downtown food sharings as a "top priority" but didn't get into specifics there. But the Mayor and company were quite specific on their immediate desire to "clear out the park" and "clear out the 308," referring to the number of homeless people the county counted in January as not wanting help in housing, aka the "chronically homeless." The Mayor's candor towards the homeless was on its usual display as he rambled about how ridiculous it was to "give free wifi" to people that won't take their help. The Mayor also said he "absolutely" wants the area of Stranahan Park and the Main Library cleared of homeless people "nightly."

The Eviction

Food Not Bombs sharing following eviction
In the past, FLPD officers, Park Rangers, or others, have had some kind of communication with the homeless camp about what to expect coming up, and there have been some unfulfilled pledges to remove the pallets from the camp recently. However there was no advance warning to anyone there about Friday's eviction, which went well beyond what anything had been proposed before.

A long series of recycle bins were brought to collect everyone's possessions and bring them to FLPD headquarters. 1 week vouchers for hotels and bus passes were handed out to some. Within an hour the entire camp was gone, and soon orange tape and signs created a new perimeter around all of Stranahan Park (except the Women's Club). City Manager Lee Feldman & Mayor Jack Seiler then held a press conference at City Hall announced that the park was being closed for at least the next month in order to deal with the "health hazard" of rats at the homeless camp.

And we'll repeat that...because there were rats at the homeless camp, they closed the entire Park, but not the Women's Club, all of which are a few feet away from each other.


Notices posted around Stranahan
announcing its closure late Friday
Talks of "political repercussions" came up quickly. The City seems to have acted totally on its own with the eviction, with even Broward County Homelessness Board members finding out live on Facebook. It remains to be seen how the county will go along with this as the Mayor did not hesitate in repeatedly criticizing COC board members by name; the Mayor also claimed that Commissioners like Dale Holeness are now behind the Mayor in regards to ending food sharings. City Commissioner Trantalis, who just a year ago said he wanted all anti-homeless laws repealed, certainly said nothing like that at this meeting and was made out to be the City's little messenger boy for their future actions against the homeless.

If the City actually acted on any more of these decidedly heavy handed attitudes towards the homeless, it would seem that suffering in downtown is going to greatly increase as people are scattered into smaller and smaller areas in downtown.

Monday, January 9, 2017

A Brief History of Rebel Food Sharings in Florida

Following Saturday's arrest of 7 Food Not Bombs activists in downtown Tampa, there has been another flurry of social media outrage regarding the criminalization of homelessness. Like the last several times this has happened, there has been a flood of questions - how can sharing food be illegal? How could this happen? And so on.

Tampa Food Not Bombs before arrests on 1.7.17
The criminalization of sharing resources with the homeless, along with so many other aspects of homeless life, is hardly a new phenomenon for Florida. Generally, homeless oppression goes on in all 50 states without as much as a whimper from the majority of Americans - it just tends to bubble to the top every once in awhile when it makes an attention-grabbing headline. As we saw so very well here in Fort Lauderdale in 2014, the accuracy of these articles is...highly variable - it's actually one of the main reasons this site exists. So for those who are once again hearing about the criminalization of food sharings for the first time, we are offering a brief, incomplete primer.

Tampa in the Aughts

Tampa FNB arrest, 2004
This is not the first time this has happened in Tampa. Tampa once specifically banned the sharing of food in public parks with the homeless, resulting in 5 arrests over the course of a couple of months in 2004. The City also fenced and largely shuttered Herman Massey Park, the park Tampa FNB shared out of back then, resulting in a period of dormancy for that FNB chapter. Eventually lawyers helping FNB convinced the City to reconsider enforcement of these laws due to the lack of legal standing the laws would have needed to withstand a potential lawsuit. When TFNB began to share again in new locations in 2011 or so, no serious conflict would occur again until the events of this past week, even during the heavily policed Republican National Convention of 2012.


Orlando FNB arrests, 2011
One of the longest running food fights in Florida history was that of Orlando Food Not Bombs versus the City of Orlando. Orlando FNB shared at Lake Eola Park in downtown Orlando for many years until the City planned a multi-million dollar facelift for that location and passed a law stating that sharings for more than 25 people in that park require a permit. After a few original arrests in 2007, the conflict became a legal battle for over 4 years, with FNB plaintiffs winning several times before the City finally got an appeals court to rule in their favor. For about 6 weeks, over 25 food sharers were arrested, until the international bad press, hacking attempts, and general all-around outrage convinced Orlando to reach a compromise with FNB, allowing them to continue sharings at the nearby City Hall, and dropping all of their charges. To this day OFNB still shares at City Hall.


In 2009, the City began to enforce a rule practically nobody had heard of which restricted food sharing services to 130 meals per 24 hour time period. This law was exclusively enforced against St Francis House, which was unpopular with local developers and City officials. The Coalition to End the Meal Limit NOW!, composed of Gainesville FNB, church groups, and others, fought for 2 years to end this food sharing law. Part of this story is told in the film "Civil Indigent," featuring the since-departed, irreplaceable, Pat Fitzpatrick.


Sarasota tried to follow Orlando's lead in 2011 to cap the amount of people who can be shared with without a permit, and tried other measures such as banning smoking in public parks, but most of these ordinances did not stand up to legal scrutiny. You can read much more on Sarasota's terrible history with the homeless.


Retired couple Chico & Debbie Jimenez were infamously fined over $2,000 by the City of Daytona Beach for their once a week food sharings. Their fines were later thrown out.

Ft Lauderdale FNB arrest, 2014
Fort Lauderdale
Did you know a 90-year old chef was arrested multiple times in Fort Lauderdale in 2014? In reality, almost a dozen people were ticketed with sharing food in defiance of the City's sharing ban law in late 2014, and only 3 people (all with Fort Lauderdale FNB) were ever actually arrested, but the internet was flooded with outrage (as well as clickbait news stories that variously reported that Arnold Abbott was a pastor, that he was actually handcuffed and taken to jail multiple times, and so on).

Currently the law is still in effect, but there are several lawsuits against the City, filed by Chef Arnold's group Love Thy Neighbor, and Fort Lauderdale Food Not Bombs, that prevent it from being enforced.

There's many more facets to the criminalization of homelessness, all across Florida. From Pensacola's attempts to criminalize the legal homeless tent site known as Sean's Outpost to the Big Brother-style attempts by St Pete to criminalize all homeless activities, there's far more than the occasional and outrageous sight of food sharers being arrested. We can post links about these problems all day (look, here's another good one) but you'd be better served by just scrolling the rest of this site, which has been documenting these kinds of enforcements for almost 3 years now.
The next Tampa Food Not Bombs sharing is tomorrow morning.