Orlando leaders ask church to scale back on feeding the homeless

ORLANDO, Fla. — Orlando city leaders said if they don’t get the answers they like from a downtown church that feeds the homeless, they’ll step in to control what they said is a growing problem.

After a woman was allegedly attacked at the hands of a transient, city officials believe there’s a problem with the homeless downtown.

City leaders said they don’t believe the problems stem from St. George’s Orthodox Church feeding the homeless, but from the large crowds of transients that form on a regular basis.

“People have chased me down and walked behind me and stuff,” said resident Cory Ramsey.

Panhandlers pushing the limit was already a topic on the city’s radar before this week’s attack.

“It’s my nightmare. We don’t ignore that it happened. It’s very serious, we take it very seriously,” said Thomas Chatmon, the economic development director for the city.

Chatmon said he hopes the church can work with the city.

“To see if we can get them to voluntarily de-escalate the situation, reduce it, to dispel it all together,” Chatmon said.

In 2006, a city ordinance stopped homeless feedings at Lake Eola, which is public property.

St. George’s is steps away from Lake Eola, and it has fed tens of thousands of homeless people for decades.

“What they get from St. George is more than food. It’s dignity,” said Father John Hamatie.

Hamatie said blame is falling in the wrong place.

He said if they stop or reduce the amount of times they feed the homeless, it would create more desperation among transients and possibly more crime.

“The point is if we're not feeding the homeless, if we're not helping people, then who's going to do that? We're part of the solution. We are not the problem,” Hamatie said.

City officials said if talks with the church aren’t successful, they’ll take action to address the issue of loitering.