[Hpn] Orlando, FL - Orlando restricts homeless - Orlando Sentinel - August 6, 2002

H. C. Covington H. C. Covington" <icanamerica@bellsouth.net
Sat, 10 Aug 2002 01:24:45 -0500


Orlando restricts homeless
Starting today, homeless people who sit or lie on downtown
Orlando's sidewalks can be hauled off to jail.

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By Melissa Harris/Sandra Mathers - Orlando Sentinel - August 6, 2002

The Orlando City Council voted 6-0 Monday to further crack down
on the homeless after getting complaints that too many vagrants
sleep in doorways or spend hours on sidewalks in front of businesses.

Life is getting tougher all around for people living on the streets in
The City Beautiful.

Next up: The council may consider limiting to four times a year
the number of occasions that volunteer groups can offer free
meals to the homeless in the city's signature Lake Eola Park.

These are the latest moves in the city's battle to corral the
homeless and limit their impact on people who live, work or play
downtown.

In both instances, the motivation is the same: complaints from
the growing number of people who are moving into the luxury
lakeside condos and apartments ringing downtown and from the tony
shops, restaurants and nightclubs that have opened to serve
them.

Monday's action "is the appropriate step to take to improve the
safety, economy and well-being of Orlando," said Harry Citizen,
owner of 1 South Orange, an office building outside of which many
transients congregate. "Homelessness is a complex issue, but
safety is a simple one."

Call for strategy

But the new law is drawing sharp criticism from organizations
that help people on the streets.

"We're not bleeding hearts," said Kelly Caruso, president of The
Ripple Effect, which offers meals and clothing to the homeless
each Saturday on the shores of Lake Eola. "We have programs and
goals [for the homeless]. Why can't we get together to create a
strategy?"

Such concerns prompted Mayor Glenda Hood to announce on Monday
that she would create a "working group" aimed at tackling the
issue from a broader perspective.

"This is an opportunity to create a renewed dialogue to develop
new models and strategies to combat homelessness," Hood said,
adding that the group would look at how other cities deal with
the problem.

Monday's City Council action, which aims at keeping transients
from loitering downtown, packed City Hall with homeless people
and their advocates as well as business owners and others who see
homelessness as a major problem -- but from different
perspectives.

"This ordinance targets homeless citizens," said Lyle Shaw, who
lost his home and car after being laid off from his job. "Many
people in the Orlando community believe that all homeless people
are dirty, dangerous, lazy and drug-addicted. But then they
provide no place for homeless people to rest."

The no-sitting ordinance is clearly aimed at the homeless: It
includes exceptions allowing people to sit or lie down on
sidewalks if they have medical emergencies, use wheelchairs, dine
at sidewalk cafes, participate in protests, sit on authorized
benches or wait in line to enter businesses or buy tickets.

Violating the law would be a misdemeanor that could result in a
fine of up to $500 and 60 days in jail. The ordinance takes
effect immediately.

'A Band-Aid' solution?

Monday's action brought out strong emotions on both sides.

"I moved here in 1985, and downtown has gone downhill," said Jeff
Patterson, a commercial real estate broker who often confronts
homeless people when showing downtown property to prospective
buyers. "The first thing I think is, 'This deal is going to die
in a hurry.' "

Church groups, activists and homeless people who attended
Monday's meeting said they were more concerned about the
effectiveness of the ordinance, calling it a "Band-Aid,"
"discriminatory" and "reactive."

"My concern arises from the apparent targeting of those perceived
to be homeless . . . when there is no viable alternative,"
William Owen, chairman of the Coalition for the Homeless of
Central Florida, wrote in a letter to council members.

While the no-sitting law sparked strong opinions, the latest
proposal on the city's agenda for dealing with the homeless --
sharply curtailing meal handouts at Lake Eola Park -- is likely
to provoke even more debate.

That proposal would affect at least five groups that offer meals
for the homeless there, some as often as once a week.

The most regular are the meals provided every Saturday by The
Ripple Effect, Caruso's nonprofit group.

This past Saturday was a typical day. By 8 a.m., a long line of
about 70 homeless men, clutching plastic bags and carryalls,
waited quietly for the food and clothing distribution to begin.

Soon they began downing bologna sandwiches, doughnuts, cookies,
crackers, candy, fruit and juice at blue tables and chairs
sprinkled around the park's food court.

In one hour, the food was gone, and most of the "guests" were
too, drifting off to other areas of the park or the streets
beyond. On a typical weekend, the same scene can play out at
least three, sometimes five, times.

The Ripple Effect has been offering its Saturday breakfast in the
park for eight years, recently from the tree-shaded patio at
Central Boulevard and Eola Drive.

"If it wasn't for these programs, I don't know where we'd be,"
said Vincent Robinson, 35, an unemployed welder with an admitted
drug problem who sleeps on city streets at night and wanders them
by day.

Panhandling law 2 years old

But downtown businesses -- especially the shops and restaurants
that line the shores of Lake Eola -- complain that the homeless
harass customers, litter and sleep in doorways.

"They create a real mess," said Renee Blanton, owner of Art
Angel's Market, across the street from the park food site. "They
leave everything they eat all over the grounds, and they try to
use everyone's toilets and bathe in the sinks."

Across the street at Lee's Lakeside restaurant, weekend diners
frequently are faced with walking through "a gantlet" of homeless
people to reach the dining room, said Tammy Arwood, whose mother,
Lee Rose, owns the landmark restaurant.

"We've had customers call us on their cell phones because they
are afraid to come in," Arwood said. "It's really bad. It affects
us big time."

Arwood, who has called police frequently, said she outlined the
problems in a letter last week to Hood.

Susan Blexrud, the mayor's spokeswoman, said the proposal to
restrict the meals is on the table, but not yet set.

"There is no ordinance yet, but we're considering a number of
strategies to manage the effects of homelessness on downtown
Orlando," Blexrud said.

Advocates for the homeless criticize the city's approach. They
point to the no-sit law, the proposal to restrict meals and the
city's 2000 law that limits panhandling to 36 so-called "blue
boxes" around downtown as evidence the city isn't serious about
finding solutions.

"This ordinance avoids treating the problem," said Gary Shif, a
board member of The Ripple Effect and a Lake Eola business
owner.

"The city must offer an alternative to sleeping in the streets.
An alternative is a fair thing to ask."



Sandra Mathers can be reached at smathers@orlandosentinel.com or
407-420-5507. Melissa Harris can be reached at 407-420-6269 or
mharris@orlandosentinel.com. Copyright  2002, Orlando Sentinel
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