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Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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Sunshine State prosecutes soup run

May 18 2009
Florida police arrest a volunteer for giving out meals to the homeless, sparking a dispute between activists and officials Police in the US state of Florida have arrested a volunteer for giving out meals to the homeless, sparking a dispute between activists and state officials. Eric Montanez, 21, of the charity group Food Not Bombs, is the first person in Florida to be charged with violating a controversial law that prevents people from feeding large groups of people in the Orlando city centre. The law came into effect last summer after the local business owners complained that the presence of the homeless has been a factor in driving away customers. Residents of the area also complained that the city's parks were being used as soup kitchens. The arrest of Mr Montanez has enraged volunteers, who claimed it was proof the city cares little for its neediest residents. "Police are arresting people for feeding the homeless," said local American Civil Liberties Union president, George Crossley. "This has been a truly disgusting day." Activists and homeless advocates have been turning up the pressure on city legislators since the law was passed, challenging it in court with the support of various civil rights groups. The law bars groups from feeding more than 25 people without a special permit, and groups may have only two permits per year. However, several volunteer groups have managed to bend the rule by having several organizations host weekly soup runs, while making sure no one group served more than 25 people at the same time. Their actions were closely watched by local police, who sometimes took photos and put fines on volunteers' cars. According to the officers, the arrest of Mr Montanez came only after he had been observed serving "30 unidentified persons." Police spokeswoman Sargeant Barbara Jones said the arrest was warranted. "Our job is to enforce the rules," she said.