ORLANDO – City officials have banned charitable groups from feeding homeless people in parks downtown, arguing that transients who gather for weekly meals create safety and sanitary problems for businesses.
The measure, approved Monday, prevents serving large groups in parks and other public property within two miles of City Hall without a permit. The American Civil Liberties Union vowed to sue, saying it's a superficial fix that ignores the city's homeless problem.
City commissioner Patty Sheehan pushed for the ordinance after complaints from business owners and residents that homeless people were causing problems at a downtown park popular with joggers and dog walkers.
A group called Food Not Bombs, which has served weekly vegetarian meals to homeless people for more than a year there, said it would continue illegally.
Robin Stotter, who is opening a restaurant downtown, said he would support homeless people by pledging money for food and shelter, but supported the ordinance.
"The homeless issue is not going to be solved today," he said. "It's a safety issue, and the public deserves a safe place to be."
Two of the city's five commissioners voted against the ordinance — including Robert Stuart, the head of a homeless shelter.
Stuart said the city was moving to "criminalize goodhearted people."
"We're putting a Band-Aid on a critical problem," said commissioner Sam Ings, the other opposing vote.