2 Pastors and Man, 90, Charged for Feeding Homeless
Fort Lauderdale officials say they're simply enforcing public food-sharing law
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 5, 2014 8:34 AM CST
A 90-year-old man and two ministers face up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine after they were arrested for feeding the homeless in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.   (Webdings Marketing)
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(Newser) – "Drop that plate right now" was the command hurled at 90-year-old Arnold Abbott on Sunday before he was charged with violating Florida law. His crime: feeding Fort Lauderdale's homeless. Abbott and two pastors, Dwayne Black and Mark Sims, were cited for disobeying a new city ordinance that effectively bans public food sharing, which could lead to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine for each, Local 10 reports. Abbott, who runs the nonprofit Love Thy Neighbor and has been feeding the homeless for more than 20 years, had served up just a handful of meals in Stranahan Park when he was stopped, the Sun-Sentinel reports. "I'm going to have to go to court again and sue the city of Fort Lauderdale," he tells Local 10. "These are the poorest of the poor, they have nothing. ... How do you turn them away?" By "go to court again," Abbott refers to a 1999 lawsuit—which he won—that he brought against the city for the exact same reason.

The new ordinance puts more stringent restrictions on how the homeless can be fed—for instance, food providers must offer toilet facilities, something Abbott can't manage, Fox News reports. Vocal supporters for the law include Mayor Jack Seiler, who tells the Sun-Sentinel, "I'm not satisfied with having a cycle of homeless in [the] city of Fort Lauderdale. Providing them with a meal and keeping them in that cycle on the street is not productive." Cal Deal, a retired journalist who records homeless people around town, agrees. "The people feeding them are enablers," he tells the New Times Broward-Palm Beach. "Hunger is a big motivator. Are people more likely to seek help when they're hungry or when they're fed and happy?" Rev. Black acknowledges the city's homeless problem but tells the Sun-Sentinel, "Let's just feed them and then deal with other issues." (In Houston, a homeless veteran got ticketed for looking for food in the trash.)