Carey Wedler | It is a sad day when feeding the homeless becomes an act of civil disobedience, yet in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, this is the current reality. An ordinance passed on October 22 by the city commission and enacted on Friday was swiftly exercised against volunteers.
On Monday, a 90-year-old man, Arnold Abbott, was cited along with Christian pastor, Dwayne Black, and priest, Mark Sims. They willingly violated the city’s new regulations to distribute meals.
Abbott has run the non-profit charity, Love Thy Neighbor, since 1991, feeding those in need.
He recalled this week’s incident:
“One of the police officers said, ‘Drop that plate right now,’ as if I were carrying a weapon…It’s man’s inhumanity to man is all it is.”
The city’s new law was passed in an attempt to halt the city’s growing homeless population. It incurs a fine of $500 and up to 60 days in jail for those who violate it.
Specifically, it mandates that
“no two indoor feeding sites can be within 500 feet of one another or on the same block; outdoor feeding programs require a permit or permission of the property owner and must provide portable toilets; and outdoor stations cannot be within 500 feet of residential properties.”
As Sims said,
“We are simply trying to feed people who are hungry…To criminalize that is contrary to everything that I stand for as a priest and as a person of faith.”
Last week, the law attracted national attention and mayor Jack Seiler assured activists that:
“Just because of media attention we don’t stop enforcing the law. We enforce the laws here in Fort Lauderdale.”
Mayor Seiler argued that he was
“…not satisfied with having a cycle of homeless in city of Fort Lauderdale…Providing them with a meal and keeping
them in that cycle on the street is not productive.”
Ft. Lauderdale is one of many cities to enact legislation to combat the presence of homeless people in recent years.
Abbott, Sims and Black were not taken to jail on Monday, but were cited and ordered to court. If they do not attend, they will face a bench warrant for their arrest. Abbott started Love Thy Neighbor in honor of his wife Maureen, who volunteered to help the homeless, poor and hungry before she died in a car accident 20 years ago. He successfully sued the city in 1999 after it attempted to block him from feeding homeless people on the beach.
Abbott has no intention of stopping and plans to deliver meals to thousands of homeless people on the beach on Wednesday. As he toldFox News,
“I know that I will be arrested again, and I am prepared for that. I am my brother’s keeper, and what they are doing is just heartless.”
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