Florida police handed out citations and threatened to arrest two priests and a 90-year-old veteran volunteer for feeding the homeless. A recently passed city ordinance makes sharing food a citable offense.
Fort Lauderdale police removed at least three volunteers, as well as the Sunday lunch they were serving to several dozen homeless people, citing a controversial new ordinance that prohibits food sharing. Passed in October, the measure was created to try to cut down the growing population of homeless people in Fort Lauderdale.
In video footage from Sunday, three police officers arrive and interrupt the feeding program by removing 90-year-old Arnold Abbott, the Rev. Canon Mark Sims of St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church, and the Rev. Dwayne Black of the Sanctuary Church. A chorus of protest erupts from the crowd and follows the officers as they take the men to their patrol cards – “Shame on you, arresting an elderly man!” someone in the crowd says. “The whole world is watching!” says another.
Then, a police officer explains to the men: “Basically you are going to be cited for serving to the community without proper accommodations. Everything is explained in here. This is a citation. If you guys continue to come out here you will face arrest.”
The ban on sharing food is part of city officials’ recent efforts to cut down on the burgeoning downtown homeless population. The most recent law – passed by a 4-1 vote – limits where outdoor feeding can be located. It can’t be situated near another feeding site; it has to be at least 500 feet from residential property; and feed program organizers must seek permission from property owners for sites in front of their buildings.
It's now illegal to feed the homeless in Fort Lauderdale. You could go to jail for up to 60 days if caught. SMFH
— Joel Franco (@OfficialJoelF) November 3, 2014
Officials describe the new laws as “public health and safety measures,” but opponents have labeled them “homeless hate laws,” according to The Sun-Sentinel.
“We are simply trying to feed people who are hungry,” Sims told The Sun Sentinel. “To criminalize that is contrary to everything that I stand for as a priest and as a person of faith.”
The program is run by Love Thy Neighbor. Its founder, 90 year-old Abbott, is a World War II veteran and has served food to homeless people for 20 years.
The latest ordinance follows others in Fort Lauderdale that banned the homeless from soliciting at the city’s busiest intersections, outlawed sleeping on public property downtown, toughened laws against defecating in public, and made it illegal for people to store personal belongings on public property.
“I’m not satisfied with having a cycle of homeless in city of Fort Lauderdale,” Mayor Jack Seiler told the Sun-Sentinal, defending the law and its intent. “Providing them with a meal and keeping them in that cycle on the street is not productive.”
EVERYTHING about Florida is despicable. Fort Lauderdale Passes Law That Restricts Feeding Homeless People http://t.co/v1Qiy3P55S
— Big Ol' TDs (@cindasmommy) November 4, 2014
City officials say they are working to assist the homeless by providing housing to 22 people identified as chronically homeless, creating an outreach program run through the police department. Also included in the city’s new budget is $25,000 to give people a one-way bus ticket to reunite with their families.
However, homelessness and those who volunteer to help them is being criminalized in towns and cities across America. A report released by the National Coalition for the Homeless last month found that 21 cities have restricted sharing food with the homeless, and 10 other cities are in the process of doing so.
Back in February, officials in Columbia, South Carolina, began requiring any group of 25 people or more to pay for and obtain a permit 15 days in advance if they wished to use the city’s parks for an event. This requirement was extended to non-profit groups and charities, though their fees would be smaller. Those fees – as much as $120 per week – could not be met by some food programs such as Food Not Bombs, which has been sharing meals for 12 years.
Last December, a church group in Olympia, Washington, launched a battle against a City Council proposal that would stop an outreach mission that feeds hundreds of homeless residents every week. Although the City Council passed the proposal, the group still continues to carry on its activities.
The trend is to threaten citations and arrest to those who are trying to help.
“No sane, civilized country would do that. That would be as crazy as punishing doctors and nurses who are brave enough to fight Ebola,” said Joel Berg, executive director of the New York Coalition Against Hunger, to RT. “I think we’ve lost our collective minds. We’re arresting people who should be lauded and lauding people on Wall Street and elsewhere who should be arrested.”
“Look, there are public safety concerns, there are food safety concerns, and there are ways to deal with that, and do I think going into a park is the best way to deal with homelessness and hunger? Absolutely not,” Berg added. “We need living wage jobs and a social safety net. That being said, arresting people who are volunteering to feed their neighbors – if this wasn’t actually true you’d think this was the cruelest joke ever out of The Onion.”
— MU Midnight Run (@MUMidnightRun) October 31, 2014