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]
Did anyone else start reading this and think “Don’t feed the bears”? I don’t mean to sound rude and I understand to a point why they are doing this but it is still somewhat crazy. No we don’t want to see homeless people, we don’t want them crowding up our precious parks (and even some of the scary alleys they sleep in) but what are we going to do, just like them die off? We send money, food and supplies to how many countries and now we are fining people who are trying to help in the best way they can? ಠ_ಠ
I thought the same thing –it reminded me of being a kid who was told not to feed stray animals, because they would never go away if you fed them. The thing is that authorities seem to not be trained in dealing with homeless people — many who have suffered trauma, are afflicted with mental illness or disability. Arresting people for being homeless or for feeding the homeless flies in the face of reason. It costs the taxpayers money. It seems like a law that is simply meant to be mean-spirited, not solve any problems.
This story made me so incredibly sad and disgusted. When individual citizens cannot reach out to help one another without being jailed it means we’ve had a complete breakdown of society. I feel horrified that we could ever allow someone to starve on the streets. Many of these homeless are veterans.
I agree with you. I read this and I can’t believe what this society is turning into. There are so many people out there that need help and sometimes all it takes is for a kind person to show these individuals a little bit of compassion to lift their spirits and help them get back on their feet. One kind deed can help change the lives of millions.
I really admire this gentleman for standing up for what he believes. He is truly an example to us all. It is shameful that homeless people are being denied the most basic of human rights. I am glad that there are people like Mr. Abbott who are willing to stand up for them.
That is exactly what I was thinking. His kindness should be something that everyone learns from. We need more people in the world like this man. I would have done the same exact thing as he did. Great job at standing up for what you believe in.
I’m sure he’d like to hear your thoughts.