Recently, we wrote about new laws across the country effectively criminalizing feeding homeless people in public. We are beginning to see the consequences of those laws as Arnold Abbott, a 90-year-old Fort Lauderdale resident, along with two pastors, face 60 days in jail and a $500 fine for feeding the homeless in public.
"I was arrested for feeding the homeless and received a citation to appear in court," wrote Abbott on his Facebook page. "However, only 4 people were fed before an officer told me to, 'Drop that plate immediately!' As [sic] though it were a weapon I was holding, and to go with him to the police car."
Abbott explained that the cops did allow him and the pastors to relocate to a church driveway where they continued to distribute food.
On Oct. 22, the city commission put into place an ordinance outlining strict regulations regarding where, when and how outdoor feeding sites can be organized. The move comes as the local government attempts to deal with a sizable homeless population. The city has also made it illegal to sleep in public places downtown and to beg for money at large intersections.
Commissioner Dean Trantalis told a local radio station that he thinks the laws are justified: "I think that once the full story is out and people see the entire spectrum of services and initiatives in which the city is currently engaged, I think people will have a better understanding of our role in trying to help the homeless in our community."
Abbott runs nonprofit group Love Thy Neighbor, Inc. and has been a longtime advocate for homelessness issues, meaning this isn't his first encounter with the law. In 1999, the city attempted to stop him from feeding homeless people on Fort Lauderdale Beach. Abbott responded with a lawsuit and won. He plans to show the police the 1999 court order when he returns to the beach this Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. to distribute food.
He plans on fighting these new charges in court as well. "These are the poorest of the poor. They have nothing--they don't even have a roof over their heads. How do you turn them away?" Abbott said in an interview with a local television station. "I don't do things to purposefully aggravate the situation. I'm trying to work with the city. Any human has the right to help his fellow man."