Arnold Abbott, a 90-year-old World War II veteran, of the interfaith Love Thy Neighbour non-profit group, was arrested alongside two church leaders on Sunday for feeding the homeless in Fort Lauderdale.
The arrest came after a new law passed earlier this month, when Fort Lauderdale, Florida became the latest American city to pass a measure restricting food distribution to the homeless, part of a growing trend in the country over the past several years.
The measure caused a flurry of protests and civil disobedience from outraged residents, charity groups, and nonprofits. The law goes just a step away from banning any feeding sites — specifying that they must not operating within 500 feet of each other and must also be 500 feet from any residential area. But while the prohibition isn’t total, the restriction reflects a belief that homeless people are better served in facilities that also provide mental health and drug rehabilitation services.
Fort Lauderdale commissioners, led by mayor Jack Seiler, approved the measure alongside a host of laws this year aimed at curbing homelessness through restrictions rather than programs. The city has an estimated 10,000 homeless people. New laws include restrictions on roadside panhandling, sleeping on public property and the storage of personal belongings in public places. All of the efforts appear aimed at reducing the visibility of the homeless population by making homelessness even more difficult or unpleasant. (Almost as if they believe if homelessness becomes too difficult, people will give up and go home?)
Fort Lauderdale isn’t the first city in Florida to criminalize those who want to feed the homeless. Earlier this year, a couple in Daytona Beach, Florida were fined a total of $746 and banned from a city park after violating a city ordinance against providing the homeless with free food. And although restrictions on homeless activities such as panhandling sound a bit unrealistic, Orlando implemented a similar set of measures in the early 2000’s, affixing a painted blue box to the sidewalk that they labeled “panhandling zones”, vowing arrest of any panhandlers who dared to ask for change outside the painted boxes. No matter what Orlando does to crack down on homelessness, they can’t figure out how to stem the tide of needy people. Fines and jail stays don’t really work; but the city has gone ahead and created a “transient detail” dedicated to arresting violators.
The Fort Lauderdale laws aren’t going to deter charity groups from doing what they believe is their duty to their fellow man, either. “The city is choking out every avenue for the homeless to survive,” Haylee Becker of the Food Not Bombs advocacy group told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “They’re all terrible ordinances, but together they’re a death sentence.”
Mr. Abbott, the 90-year-old advocate for the poor, isn’t going away, either. He plans to file a lawsuit against the city, and continue to feed the homeless. “I know I will be arrested again, I’m prepared for that,” he told Fox News. “I am my brother’s keeper and what they are doing is just heartless. They are trying to sweep the poorest of the poor under the rug.”
[Image Credit: The Guardian]