For the last several months, the 130-meal limit on St. Francis House (SFH) has been a contentious issue in the press, in the elections and in the Gainesville community. The most active advocate for the repeal of the meal limit, the Coalition to End the Meal Limit NOW, has been consistently struggling to bring an end to this unjust ordinance.
A petition brought forth by the SFH would change the numerical limit on meals to a time frame in which the shelter could serve food. In the three hours from 10:30am to 1:30pm, SFH is confident that they can serve all those who need food, which would effectively mean an end to the meal limit.
After a long and expensive submission process, the SFH petition was put to a vote at the planning board meeting in late March, where it passed without any objection. This means that the City Commission’s own body charged with investigating the petition has unanimously recommended that it be passed, but the final word must still be given by the City Commission itself, which has historically ignored planning board recommendations regarding the meal limit.
Meanwhile, the downtown developers responsible for pressuring the commission to enforce the ordinance in the first place have conveniently remained hidden from the public eye on this issue. That is, until the Coalition to End the Meal Limit NOW organized a successful picket against Nathan Collier, owner of Paradigm Properties, and the McGurns, who own the Sun Center, during the farmers’ market in mid-April. The success of this demonstration lies not only in the fact that it recruited multiple new allies to the cause, but for many Gainesville citizens, it also brought to light the crucial connection between these developers and the disgraceful meal limit. Through the picket, the Coalition wanted to highlight the disproportionate influence over our local government by these businessmen.
Shortly after the demonstration, Collier’s representative, Arthur Stockwell, proposed a “compromise”: in return for the lifting of the meal limit, the city would impose “vagrancy laws” downtown. This would mean that police officers would roam the downtown area looking for “vagrants,” who would then have to relocate to another area. Besides the fact that the only way of physically identifying a “vagrant” is by open discrimination, vagrancy laws reflect the blatant classism behind the criminalization of the poor. The Coalition will uncompromisingly stand up to these laws if proposed, but recognizes them as a distraction from the meal limit itself. The Gainesville community is constantly told that new measures must be implemented for the control of the “homeless problem,” but raising these issues distract from the fact that the meal limit doesn’t help a single person or business, and only has negative consequences.
While the City Commission vote on the SFH petition will not take place until June, the Coalition has been working with the neighborhoods and businesses downtown. The overwhelming support for SFH in these areas flatly contradicts the main pillar of the Commission’s argument for the meal limit. Armed with the facts and the support of the community, the Coalition will continue to fight the meal limit until it is finally repealed.
Sean Larson is a member of Coalition to End the Meal Limit NOW. If you’d like to get involved with the Coalition to End the Meal Limit NOW, check out their website at www.endthemeallimitnow.org.