56ºF

Homeless groups fear city response after recent attack

Orgs worried city of Orlando will shut down food-sharing program

ORLANDO, Fla. – Homeless services organizations are worried the city of Orlando will shut down a food-sharing program after police say a homeless man raped a woman in downtown Orlando this week.

The concern is expressed in an email to homeless organization leaders obtained by Local 6.

"The city is looking to close our food-share program," writes Rachelle Hood, of the Ephraim Project.

City leaders, including Thomas Chatmon, executive director of the Downtown Development Board, told Local 6 they are not planning on shutting down the feeding program that attracts several hundred homeless people nightly to St. George Church across from Lake Eola.

Chatmon does acknowledge the city was reminded that some homeless people can be dangerous. He said they were put on alert after this week's attack in which police said a homeless man brutally raped and beat a woman in an alley next to the church.

Chatmon said the city is looking into adding police patrols at the nightly feeding, as well as enforcing loitering ordinances to cut down on dangerous situations.

"When you get a wake-up call like this and this is a wake-up call we're going to respond," said Chatmon.

When asked where the homeless taking advantage of the meals should go after the meal, city spokeswoman Cassandra Lafser pointed to the area homeless shelters.

The city said it's planning conversations with police, local homelessness resources and St. George Church to ensure the safety of downtown residents, workers and visitors.

Andrae Bailey, of the Central Florida Regional Commission on Homelessness, urges the city not to paint all homeless people as dangerous.

"To not hold all the homeless accountable for one very tragic circumstance and one person that did something terrible and unspeakable," said Bailey.

Bailey is hosting a meeting of leaders in the homeless services community Friday to address their concerns about the city's reaction to this week's attack and their goals for the feeding program.