Respectfully submitted by Lawrence E. Rafferty (rafflaw)-Weekend Contributor
Did you know that somewhere in America, it is illegal to feed the homeless in public? It can’t be true can it? It is true in Fort Lauderdale, Florida after the recent passage of an ordinance by the city council. The real scary part of that news is that Fort Lauderdale is not alone in taking this anti-compassionate stance!
“Over 30 cities across the nation have outlawed or are considering criminalizing the provision of food to homeless people. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, over 20 cities have devised laws against giving food to homeless people since January 2013.” Nation of Change
While I can understand this stance if these cities are adding health guidelines to make such feeding attempts safer, I am shocked that over 30 cities have outlawed it or are considering outlawing the practice of giving food to the hungry and homeless. Are public picnics next on the hit list?
Why would any city want to stop the feeding of the homeless in public? Just who are these brigands who are trying to destroy the city of Fort Lauderdale by having the audacity to feed the hungry?
“In an act of compassion and civil disobedience, a 90-year-old man and two pastors in Fort Lauderdale openly defied a new city ordinance barring anyone from feeding homeless people in public. After police intervened and charged them with a crime, 90-year-old Arnold Abbott and Pastor Dwayne Black returned several days later to break the draconian law again. Although Abbott received another citation, police decided not to place him in custody.
Last Sunday, Arnold Abbott, Pastor Dwayne Black of The Sanctuary Church in Fort Lauderdale, and Mark Sims of St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church in Coral Springs fed homeless people in a public park in South Florida two days after the city passed a new ordinance outlawing the provision of food to vagrants in public. After getting arrested, the two pastors and elderly homeless advocate each face a $500 fine and up to 60 days in jail.
“One of the police officers said, ‘Drop that plate right now,’ as if I were carrying a weapon,” recalled Abbott. “It’s man’s inhumanity to man is all it is.”
On Wednesday evening, Abbott and Pastor Black remained undeterred as they served a four-course meal to nearly 100 homeless people at Fort Lauderdale Beach. After police officers recorded the simple act of kindness on their video cameras, they escorted Abbott away from the crowd to fingerprint him and issue another citation. Wary of public backlash, law enforcement officials chose not to place Abbott in handcuffs and haul him off to jail again.” Nation of Change
The City of Fort Lauderdale claims that they don’t want hungry and homeless people fed in public because they claim it will only keep them from trying to get out of the cycle of homelessness. Of course, one has to wonder if the real reason might be related to the tourism trade that brings in big dollars to Fort Lauderdale. After all, it seems that this latest ordinance to ban the feeding of the homeless in public is just one of the anti-homeless ordinances passed by the city fathers of Fort Lauderdale.
“Backed by the Chamber of Commerce, the recent city ordinance is the fourth law Fort Lauderdale has passed this year against the homeless. The other laws ban homeless people from panhandling at traffic intersections and outlaw sleeping or storing their belongings on public property. According to Pastor Black, the recent food-sharing ordinance passed after a long meeting past midnight after many people had gone home.
“It’s a pubic safety issue. It’s a public health issue,” Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler rationalized. “The experts have all said that if you’re going to feed them to get them from breakfast to lunch to dinner, all you’re doing is enabling that cycle of homelessness.”
One of these so-called experts is Ron Book, a city lobbyist who commended the Fort Lauderdale commissioners for passing the ordinance. Book told the commissioners that feeding impoverished people on the streets merely sanctions homelessness. Book added, “Whatever discourages feeding people on the streets is a positive thing.” ‘ Nation of Change
I just love it when experts turn out to be lobbyists pedaling their bosses wares. Mr. Abbot has made it his life’s work to help the poor and this isn’t the first time he has fought with Fort Lauderdale over feeding people in public. He won a court case against the city in 1999 over this same issue and Fort Lauderdale may be looking at another court case over this issue.
While I do understand that large groups of homeless people can impact the look and feel of any city, the realities of how many of these people end up on the streets is no mystery. However, it seems that Fort Lauderdale would rather punish the poor and the people trying to help them rather than attempt to help solve some of the problems that leads people into the streets.
Mr. Abbott and the ministers have taken it upon themselves to treat these homeless people as humans and strive to provide them with a meal. Fort Lauderdale gets an early Grinch award for punishing the modern-day Samaritans who are doing the job that Fort Lauderdale refuses to do. Kudos to these individuals who are risking themselves to help the less fortunate.
I think it is time for the Mayor and the City Council to start rolling up their sleeves and helping feed and house and treat the homeless. Or get out-of-the-way. What do you think?
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