“One of the police officers said, ‘Drop that plate right now,’ as if I were carrying a weapon,” said 90-year-old World War II veteran and anti-poverty crusader Arnold Abbott to WPLG Local 10 in the above-embedded video as he described the moment before police charged him with violating Fort Lauderdale’s new effective ban on publicly feeding the homeless. The Florida city recently enacted an ordinance subjecting churches and non-profits that feed the homeless to a maze of regulations, enforced through criminal charges, aimed at preventing them from publicly offering meals to Fort Lauderdale’s destitute.
On Sunday, soon after the law went into effect, Arnold Abbott held a public event to feed the poor and was joined by two Christian pastors, Dwayne Black of The Sanctuary Church and Mark Sims of St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church. Police were dispatched to the scene and halted the newly-criminalized charitable activity, charging Abbott, Black, and Sims with an infraction that carries a $500 fine and a 60-day jail sentence.
According to Fox News, Arnold Abbott launched his non-profit Love Thy Neighbor, Inc. after his wife Maureen passed away 23 years ago, in an effort to continue her lifelong quest to feed and support the poor. In 1999, Abbott won a lawsuit against the city’s ban on feeding the homeless on public beaches. He said, “I’m going to have to go to court court again to sue the city of Fort Lauderdale, the beautiful city. These are the poorest of the poor. They have nothing. Don’t have a roof over their head, and who could turn them away?”
Abbott plans to feed the homeless on the beach on Wednesday in what would be yet another violation of the city’s ordinance. He says he is prepared to face arrest if necessary.
The new rules ban the sharing of food with homeless people within 500 feet of residential property and require a permit and the pricey installation of portable toilets, driving costs up in what critics call an effort to prevent charities and churches from feeding the poor. Said Abbott, “I have tried to abide by their regulations, but we just are not able to provide a port-a-potty.”
Fort Lauderdale Police Department detective DeAnna Greenlaw defended the new law in comments to Fox News, “The ordinance allows for legal, clean and safe distribution of food to the homeless. For example, if a minister, priest or member of clergy wishes to provide food to the homeless at their establishment, they can do so if the proper facilities, as listed in the ordinance, are in place.”
New Times Broward-Palm Beach quoted Cal Deal, a local supporter of laws cracking down on feeding the homeless, as saying, “The people feeding them are enablers, and they enable the homeless by making their lives easier.”
Abbott acknowledged the fact that Fort Lauderdale’s weather attracts homeless people. He said, “The homeless people come here for the weather. They know they won’t freeze to death in Fort Lauderdale.”
Pastor Mark Sims, who believes that criminalizing feeding the homeless is the wrong approach, told Fox News, “It’s not an easy issue, not cut and dried, but what is cut and dried is that people deserve to eat when they are hungry. And people of faith are compelled to reach out to people who are in need… We need to work harder to solve the problem, rather than just shutting it down.” Fox News cited a report by the National Coalition for the Homeless noting that, since 2012, 13 cities have enacted ordinances cracking down on feeding the homeless.
“We believe very strongly that Jesus taught us that we are to feed his sheep,” said Pastor Dwayne Black.
According to KHON-2, Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler addressed the issue by saying, “We enforce the laws here in Ft. Lauderdale.”