Written by Andrea Martin, Media by Jack Wang
On Oct. 22, the city of Fort Lauderdale, Florida passed an ordinance, which limited where groups can set up sites to feed the hungry on public property by requiring secure permission from those that own the property. It also required that those who wished to set up the sites provide portable toilets, according to the Sun Sentinel. Three people were cited and charged on Sunday, Nov. 2, which consisted of a 90-year-old who had been serving food to the homeless for more than two decades, as well as two clergy members for violating the new ordinance. Such citations were meant to shut down the gathering efforts brought on by the advocacy group Love Thy Neighbor, which was presenting lunch to the homeless in Stranahan Park.
Arnold Abott, the 90-year-old cited, has faced the new law with respect, and also with some humor. Next Wednesday night he says he intends to be cited again as he will be serving the homeless once more, and sees no crime taking place in loving someone else as “thy neighbor.” “I know I will be arrested again, and I am prepared for that,” Abbott declared on the phone from his office at Love Thy Neighbor, Inc. Abbott established the nonprofit organization 23 years ago after the death of his wife, Maureen. “I am my brother’s keeper, and what they are doing is just heartless.”
As for supporters, it has been declared that advocacy groups like Abbott’s only encourage homelessness. Car Deal, a 65-year-old former journalist, videotapes homeless people within the city, and says that they commit crimes, cause sanitation problems, and need more help than simply being given food. “The people feeding them are enablers, and they enable the homeless by making their lives easier,” Deal told the New Times of Broward County. “Hunger is a big motivator. Are people more likely to seek help when they’re hungry or when they’re fed and happy?”
A video was taken by a civilian showing Abbott receiving a citation for his actions, and also showed disbelief from bystanders watching the scene unfold. The officers informed Abbott that he was violating the new ordinance that had recently passed, but Abbott did not protest the officers or the citation being given to him. Others, instead, questioned the meaning and motivation behind citing an “elderly man,” and how feeding the homeless could be jotted down as a possible crime.
Fort Lauderdale now joins other American cities that make it extremely difficult for homeless individuals to survive in a certain environment without being jailed or fined for breaking the law. In a recent report by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, it was announced that citywide bans on camping in public had jumped 60 percent in 2011, while bans on panhandling increased by 25 percent within the same span of time.
This isn’t the first time that Fort Lauderdale has passed such controversial ordinances. In September, the city also banned sleeping or “camping” within the downtown area, as well as panhandling on the busy intersections. Such laws are punishable by up to 60 days in jail or a $500 fine, or both.