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City Ordinance Criminalizes Feeding Homeless

Posted on November 17th, 2014 by Admin

Jennifer Hector, Intern
The Cochran Firm

Arnold Abbott, 90, first made national news when he and two other men—Pastor Dwayne Black, of The Sanctuary Church and Pastor Mark Sims of St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church—were charged for violating a Ft. Lauderdale city ordinance that criminalized feeding the homeless in public areas. All three men face up to 60 days in jail and a fine of $500 dollars.

Abbott, a World War II veteran, a retired jewelry salesman, and head of Love Thy Neighbor Fund has been at the forefront of the controversy and vows that he will not stop serving the homeless, which he has done for more than 20 years. About 15 years ago, Abbott was successful in a suit against the city of Ft. Lauderdale for conducting public feedings. When the court ruled in Abbott’s favor, it found that the government should take the least restrictive means in regulating licensing and permits for feeding the homeless.

Mayor Jack Seiler has spoken highly of Abbott and his cause, but the purpose of the ordinance is not to criminalize feeding the homeless, rather have the feedings be conducted in allowable spaces, which now includes churches and synagogues. Seiler clarifies that the ordinance is meant to regulate food distribution to “ensure that it is carried out in an appropriate, organized, clean and healthy manner.”

Over the weekend, Mayor Seiler and Abbott sat down with WPLG, Local Channel 10 news’ edition of “This Week in South Florida” to discuss the issues. During the discussion, Abbott stated that he is willing to comply with the city’s ordinance, but finding a location to conduct the feedings is not likely. In addition, the scenery of the beach while the feedings take place helps promote tourism.

Seiler was pleased to hear of Abbott’s willingness to comply with the city ordinance and further advocates that Ft. Lauderdale has made significant efforts to combat homelessness. Specifically, city officials have partnered with agencies, non-profit organizations, and faith-based organizations to develop a comprehensive plan to ensure that the city is enjoyed by all. As mayor of Ft. Lauderdale for the past 5 years, Seiler asserts that it is his duty to balance the interest of all citizens of the city and guarantee that resources are enjoyed by all.

One motivating factor of the city’s ordinance is to address the effect of the feedings. Seiler states, that if it is announced that a park will be used for a feeding, then the homeless overrun the park. This causes disruptions such as public urination, public defecation and vandalism. The ordinance does not ban the homeless from the park but simply asks that the feedings be conducted in an area that is lawful and safe. Mayor Seiler goes on to admit that the city should have been more up front about the implications of the ordinance and reached out to people and organizations, such as Abbott’s Love Thy Neighbor, to discuss how the ordinance will affect their work.

Many in support of the ordinance view the regulation to be reasonable and find that the public feedings do not combat the issue of homelessness but rather perpetuate it, because a person has more needs than just one meal. In opposition, organizations like Love thy Neighbor, believe that a meal is more than just food but it is an effort to spread joy to those who are suffering during a difficult time.

As of November 10th, the city ordinance has remained a hot-button topic among South Floridians, with most recently a public feeding outside of Ft. Lauderdale city hall in protest of the ordinance.

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