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Orlando Cracks Down On Free Meals

City officials in Orlando have banned charitable groups from feeding homeless people in downtown parks without a permit, arguing that the people who gather there for weekly meals create safety and sanitary problems for businesses.

The measure, approved Monday, states that large groups in parks and other public property within two miles of City Hall cannot be fed without a permit. The American Civil Liberties Union is vowing to sue to overturn the new rule, calling it 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 will continue to do so - illegally.

Robin Stotter, who is opening a restaurant downtown, said he would support homeless people by pledging money for food and shelter, but is in favor of 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.

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