In line with efforts to impose restrictions on feeding the homeless, Fort Lauderdale police arrested two pastors and a 90-year old man and for publicly distributing food to the destitute and displaced.
Dwayne Black and Mark Sims, both pastors in the area; together with retired jewelry salesman, now advocate for the homeless, Arnold Abbott, could be slapped with a $500 fine and a 60-day jail term for violating a new city ordinance imposing restrictions on where food can be distributed to those in need Under the new ordinance, volunteer groups are likewise obligated by law to provide portable lavatories during the time of food distribution.
“One of police officers came over and said ‘Drop that plate right now,’ as if I was carrying a weapon,” Abbott said.
“These are the poorest of the poor, they have nothing, they don’t have a roof over their heads. How do you turn them away?,” he added.
Abbot, a World War II veteran who was twice awarded the Purple Heart, runs a non-profit organisation called “Love Thy Neighbour” He noted that the homeless gravitate to Fort Lauderdale and other areas nearby because of the temperate climate.
“The homeless people come here for the weather, they know they won’t freeze to death in Fort Lauderdale,” Abbott said.
There are approximately 10,000 homeless people on the streets of Fort Lauderdale; a problem that officials are trying to tackle through the imposition of the new restrictions.
Abbott says, however, that he will continue to defy these new restrictions.
“They are doing the bidding of the very wealthy, and they are trying to sweep the poorest of the poor under the rug. It’s outrageous, but I have been fighting for 23 years to feed the homeless and spent 50 years fighting for civil rights in this country. I believe everybody has a right to help their fellow man,” Abbott told reporters from The Telegraph.
Fort Lauderdale is the 13th U.S. city to mandate restrictions on feeding the homeless. Analaysts believe that this reflects a hardening of attitudes amongst policy makers towards the problem of homelessness across America.
Maria Foscarinis, executive director the Washington-based National Law Centre of Homelessness and Poverty, said: “Despite a lack of any available alternatives, more cities are choosing to turn the necessary conduct of homeless people into criminal activity.”
“Such laws threaten the human and constitutional rights of homeless people, impose unnecessary costs on cities, and do nothing to solve the problems they purport to address,” she added.
The centre released a study earlier this year, analyzing the legislation of 187 major cities across the country. The study showed a dramatic rise in punitive legislation of actions – such as sitting or lying down in public, and living in cars – associated with homelessness.