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Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Salvation Army suspends public meal distribution at downtown Ocala site

The Salvation Army has indefinitely suspended daily meal distribution at its site in downtown Ocala.

On Monday, July 1, the organization suspended public feedings at its Center for Hope, which is located at 320 NW 1st Avenue.

Although the organization says it will still feed residents of the shelter, it is stopping the public feedings due to safety concerns.

The move comes less than a month after a local business owner attended an Ocala City Council meeting and shared that homeless individuals were regularly getting into fights and creating public disturbances after the daily meal distribution.

During that meeting, councilmember James P. Hilty, Sr., who is also a board member of the Salvation Army, said the organization had been actively looking to end the food distribution program in downtown Ocala.

“We are looking at doing away with that,” said Hilty. “That problem has been existing, not only because of those feedings, but that problem has been existing a long time.”

At the time, Hilty said that many of the individuals attending the feedings were not homeless and had been trespassed from entering the building. He suggested that some were showing up to the building as early as 3 p.m. each day for the regular food distribution.

Both Mayor Ben Marciano and Councilmember Kristen Dreyer expressed similar sentiments at the time, suggesting the feedings were creating more harm than good.

“It doesn’t help. What does it really do at the end of the day? You know you’re not really helping people when you’re just giving them food,” said Marciano. “Let’s give them services that change their life, use it as a tool. People get hungry, they’ll be willing to do a lot to get themselves better.”

Dreyer said it wasn’t fair that local business owners were having to deal with the issue.

“People from outside of the area come in and create this issue and then they go home and leave everyone in the neighborhood to deal with it, and it’s not right,” said Dreyer. “And then you have business owners who are just trying to earn a living, right? And they have to deal with this whole thing.”

In addition to the center downtown, the Salvation Army operates a thrift store at 120 NW 10th Street and a church at 2901 NE 14th Street.