Why is it Illegal to Feed the Homeless?


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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182 thoughts on “Why is it Illegal to Feed the Homeless?”

  1. shelly,
    Thank you for the link concerning Mr. Abbott’s trip to Washington. I hope it helps get the message across that we are a second class country if we won’t allow people to help other people with the basics of life.

  2. A city not far from me in Illinois that prides itself on it’s wealth and McMansions had 1 homeless man who actually did not consider himself homeless, but instead considered his situation as a choice, and done in protest of corrupt city government practices that ran him out of business over 10 years prior. A couple of years ago they actually implement city ordinances aimed at driving him out, after being arrested numerous times for violations of that ordinance the city was finally able to get the courts to ban him from the city.

  3. To what Annie said your absolutly right about that.I cannot believe what this country is coming to.Those self asorbed greedy public officials will pay the price one way or another.Maybe one day the public officials will find them selves on the streets. And one last thing has any one posting here heard the story of St Peter from the bible ? The story of the wealthy well fed man who would rather see the less fortunate die of hunger in the streets than help them with his wealth.The end result was St Peter was led into hell after his death.I sure would not want that kind of Karma on me.

  4. its generosity that he is doing i vote him out of prison who is with me here.I don’t
    know why its illegal but he was caring for others and thats what matters
    and if people don’t care they can turn around back home then when there all old like arnold they can cry me a river and then GET OVER IT. What i mean here is what sort of government is ruling that country its plain wrong .

    my name is bethan and i am 11 i would do anything to help with people because i care for people and i don’t swear or do bad things i am a good girl and u can’t change that because thats me. Thats who i am.

    and know body should have the right to change anybody.

    this is a human right people

    who agrees with me!!!!!!!

  5. “You need to get your facts straight before talking about a city where you do not live & only briefly visited!”

    With an exclamation point no less! So if I’m reading you correctly, Paul was factually correct with his reasoning but he lost the moral point by refusing to contribute to any of them as a result of this criminal activity?

    I believe this is a perfect metaphor for how the electorate should deal with politicians. Don’t assume they are honorable in their pursuits simply because they appear to act the part. Do not provide ANY support (including a vote) without being fully informed it will lead to the greater, constitutional purpose.

  6. Paul C. Shulte states, “Personally, I gave up giving to the ‘homeless’ after a trip to NYC and learning that some of the panhandlers there make $100k plus a year.” You need to get your facts straight before talking about a city where you do not live & only briefly visited! I live in NYC & work in Manhattan. The REAL homeless do NOT, I repeat DO NOT, make $100k plus a year! What YOU are talking about is a criminal ring(s) that uses panhandling as a hustle! There are “workers” who are sent out to different locations to panhandle & then they have to give the money to their “bosses”! These “workers” are NOT homeless, although they do tend to be poor & living on welfare. They participate in this hustle to make a little extra unreportable money, but it is their “bosses” who make that big money! Also, these “workers” are sometimes given a young child or even a baby to help get more money. The baby or young child is usually given a drug, like heroin, or alcohol to keep them calm & silent throughout the day while the “worker” is panhandling. And these “workers” hand over the money to their “bosses” out of fear of what will be done to them if they are caught holding back any money! But, again, the legit homeless do NOT make no $100k plus a year! And one can usually tell the difference between the one who is hustling and the one who is truly homeless! There tends to be a BIG difference in the clothes, appearance, and hygiene!

    1. Jay – I really do not have the time to shake down the homeless to decide which are real and which are not. If you do, tell us you technique.

  7. If we cut through the justifications, we will recognize that communities do not know what to do about the homeless, but they do know how to respond to the demands of businesses that complain about the homeless. That response is typically in the form of ordinances designed to encourage the homeless to go someplace else. The old vagrancy laws have largely been struck down by the courts, so the strategy is increasingly to make the homeless as uncomfortable as possible. The Fort Lauderdale ordinance is hardly unique.

    But the refusal to deal seriously with the problem of homelessness is reflective both of a lack of political will and an underlying sense that homelessness is a function of moral failure. And I’ve already said what I think about that attitude. http://jonathanturley.org/2013/09/29/snap-and-the-bauer-theory-of-behavior-modification/

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