ORLANDO, Fla. -- Another American city has made it a crime to feed the homeless in certain areas. Last week, Las Vegas outlawed feeding homeless people at city parks. Now, Orlando is following suit.
Orlando is trying to keep charitable groups from feeding the homeless in downtown parks. Officials said transients gathering for weekly meals create safety and sanitary problems for businesses.
The City Council voted to prohibit serving meals to groups of 25 or more people in parks and other public property within two miles of City Hall without a special permit.
A group called Food Not Bombs, which has served weekly vegetarian meals for the homeless for more than a year, said it will continue illegally.
The American Civil Liberties Union vows to sue, saying it's a superficial fix that ignores the city's homeless problem.
Two of the city's five commissioners voted against the ordinance, including Commissioners Robert Stuart, who runs the homeless shelter Christian Service Center, and Sam Ings, a retired police officer.
Stuart told The Orlando Sentinel that Orlando is taking a step to "criminalize good-hearted people" who he says are trying to help. He went on to tell the paper that group feedings in the parks had not become unwieldy to the city, as some had claimed.
He said the ordinance says, "Orlando doesn't care," the Sentinel reported.
Ings said that although the commissioners are casting the ordinance as a public-safety issue, it is really an issue of the city wanting to "cover up" the homeless problem.
"We're putting a Band-Aid on a critical problem," he said.The commissioner who pushed for the ordinance, Patty Sheehan, said it was not an "easy day" for her at all. She said the new ordinance against feeding homeless people has been "wrongly cast" as anti-homeless.
"I've been an advocate [for the homeless]," she said. "Even though you'll call me an enemy, I'll still be your friend."
The Sentinel reported that about a dozen downtown residents and business owners spoke in favor of the rule.
But more than three times that amount of people spoke against it. There were 45 speakers from various groups, including a formal declaration from the University of Central Florida's student senate, who opposed outlawing feeding homeless people.
Mayor Buddy Dyer supported the ordinance.
Food Not Bombs said on its Web site that chapters in Venice, Calif.; Las Vegas, Nev.; Orlando, and Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada have been told that their programs should stop or move out of sight.