by Jessica Newman
After two years in practice and countless years on the books, the 130-meal-a-day limit has come to an end in the city of Gainesville.
This law banned homeless shelters (only the St. Francis House downtown was truly effected) from serving more than 130 meals in one 24-hour period, all in the name of “keeping the homeless population downtown under control.”
On Aug. 18, the City Commission voted 6-0 to repeal the meal limit and instead place a three-hour-per-day time limit on serving food to the hungry and needy (Commissioner Randy Wells was absent).
This is a great victory for social justice and for the St. Francis House, which submitted the petition for a City Commission vote on the issue back in March. With the 130-meal limit, St. Francis House regularly has to shut its doors less than one hour after opening them, turning away hundreds of hungry men, women and children.
Big developers in the downtown area decided that too many poor people would deter young, rich renters and entrepreneurs from coming downtown. So they pressured the City Commission, and in 2009, the City started enforcing the meal limit.
Now the City has shifted its views 180 degrees thanks to the efforts of the Coalition to End the Meal Limit Now, which has been organizing since December 2010. They’ve held more than a dozen rallies and convinced many downtown business owners to sport the “I Oppose the Meal Limit” signs seen around the area.
After the City Commission decision on Aug. 18, Coalition members cheered and celebrated both inside and outside the walls of City Hall.
But the repeal of the meal limit doesn’t go into effect immediately. The City Attorney’s office still has to draft a new version of the ordinance, which will have to be approved and voted on two more times by the City Commission. Then St. Francis House will have to apply for a permit to be able to serve during the three-hour window. The repeal should be in effect some time in October, estimated Katie Walters, member of the Coalition.
The struggle was a classic example of the tragic “not-in-my-backyard” mentality, and the success of the Coalition to End the Meal Limit Now is a perfect example of how we can overcome that.