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Cops arrest charity workers for illegally feeding homeless

Tuesday, June 07, 2011 by: Jonathan Benson, staff writer
Tags: homeless, charity workers, health news

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(NaturalNews) Feeding the homeless in a public park without the proper permits can land you in jail, at least in Orlando, Fla. A recent report in the Orlando Sentinel explains that police officers there arrested three volunteers with the Food Not Bombs (FNB) charity for illegally feeding a large group of homeless individuals in Orlando's Lake Eola Park.

Jessica Cross, 24, Benjamin Markeson, 49, and Jonathan "Keith" McHenry, 54, had been handing out food in the park when officers reportedly approached them. Local ordinances state that feeding more than 25 homeless people at a time in that area requires a city permit, and violation of these ordinances can result in a 60-day jail sentence, a $500 fine, or both. Because the group had not followed the rules, officers arrested the three with a set bail of $250 for each person.

"They basically carted them off to jail for feeding hungry people," said Douglas Coleman, a spokesman with the Orlando chapter of FNB. "For them (city officials) to regulate a time and place for free speech and to share food, that is unacceptable."

The group has been embroiled in a legal battle with the city for years, particularly after ordinances were passed in 2006 that essentially criminalized the feeding of the homeless in downtown parks. FNB filed a lawsuit against the city at that time, and a federal judge ruled in favor of the group in 2008. But in April 2011, the Federal 11th District Court of Appeals in Atlanta overturned the ruling, which gave the City of Orlando the green light to pursue FNB.

FNB admittedly knew that its recent actions would likely incite arrest, and even posted an alert on its website inviting supporters to "come ... (and) show support for the right to share food in public spaces and to observe the actions of Orlando police and city officials." Officials, however, say the group has always been free to feed the homeless in other designated areas, but instead decided to deliberately break the rules by feeding in the park.

"This is just a group that has decided that they want to be able to feed no matter what the city has done," said Lt. Barb Jones from the Orlando Police Department, to the UK's Daily Mail. "We paid for their permits ... and the city has set up locations for them to feed."

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