In October of this year, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, became one of the latest cities in the U.S. to put restrictions on meals given to the homeless in public places by private groups to include:
- groups handing out food to homeless must be at least 500 feet away from residential areas
- there can only be one feeding sites for homeless in any given city block and multiple feeding sites for homeless can’t be within 500 feet of each other.
This new law in Ft Lauderdale, was the latest of four passed just this year regarding the homeless. The others banned homeless from asking for money at busy intersections, and made it illegal to sleep and store belongings on public property.
Across the country, legislative action criminalizing the homeless and feeding the homeless is picking up speed. Some people feel cities are targeting the homeless after 30 cities have passed or are considering feeding bans and over 20 cities have already restricted food-sharing since January 2013.
Community feelings regarding these restrictions toward the homeless has met with some heated debates by community citizens and politicians. Advocates of the reform argue that hand out meals makes the homelessness crisis worse because it lures homeless people away from city-run programs. The other side of the fence says it’s because neighborhoods want to scrub their streets clean of homeless people making it more appealing to businesses and vacationers.
Why the change? Due to two severe consecutive winters many of the homeless population moved to southern California, south Texas, and all over Florida. In the last year, Florida’s homeless population has seen about a 10 percent increase.
Fort Lauderdale’s Attempt to Enforce the New Law Meets with Disapproval
City officials in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, were serious about enforcing the new law when they cited 90-year-old Arnold Abbott and two local pastors with violation of the ordinance. All three face up to 60 days in prison and a $500 fine.
Abbott, founded his nonprofit called Love Thy Neighbor after his wife’s death and was aware of the new ordinance but told officials he would be out there whether the police cited him or not. He told Fox News that he tried to abide by their regulations, but was unable to provide a port-a-potty which he felt was the job of the municipality, anyway.
As expected, the city of Fort Lauderdale and officials received national attention last month after the police cited 90-year old, World War II veteran, Mr. Abbott of wrongdoing.
Anonymous Hacker Group Shuts Down Two Fort Lauderdale Websites in Response to the Ban
In reaction to the ban, a mysterious person wearing a mask made a video and spoke with a digitally-altered voice threatening to hack and crash the city’s websites if the city of Fort Lauderdale refused to lift bans on panhandling at intersections, sleeping in public downtown and feeding the homeless. The hackers with the Anonymous group shut down the city Internet sites temporarily in response.
Fort Lauderdale’s Judge Responds
A judge has suspended enforcement of a South Florida city’s law that restricts the public feeding of homeless people for 30 days and ordered mediation on the issue.
The decision by Broward Circuit Judge Thomas Lynch came in a challenge to the ordinance by 90-year-old homeless advocate Arnold Abbott, who has been arrested after defying it repeatedly. Lynch wants the dispute resolved through mediation or trial by the end of the year.
City attorneys indicated they may appeal Lynch’s ruling. More lawsuits are challenging whether the ordinance is constitutional.