Despite being charged with violating a new ordinance by feeding the homeless in Florida, a 90-year-old homeless advocate said he's not deterred and even went back out for another feeding at a public park.
The face-off in Fort Lauderdale over the new ordinance restricting public feeding of the homeless has pitted those with compassionate aims against residents and businesses trying to protect their neighbourhoods.
The conflict pits organizations with charitable intentions against residents and businesses who don't want their neighbourhoods to become magnets for the homeless.
Fort Lauderdale is the latest U.S. city to pass restrictions on feeding homeless people in public places. Advocates for the homeless say the cities are fighting to control increasing homeless populations but that simply passing ordinances doesn't work.
"Street feeding programs don't work," said Robert Marbut, a consultant and expert on homelessness in the U.S. "Outlawing it doesn't work, either. ... You're never going to have a good day arresting a priest."
Arnold Abbott and two South Florida ministers were charged last weekend as they handed out food. They were accused of breaking the ordinance and each faces up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.
Despite the brush with the law, Abbott, and the ministers, Dwayne Black and Mark Sims, went back out for a feeding at a public park Wednesday night as police filmed from a distance and a crowd of nearly 100 mostly homeless and volunteers cheered their arrival. Police said the men were not taken into custody and were given notices to appear in court, where the matter will be decided by a judge.
"God bless you, Arnold!" some shouted. And one man who broke out of the crowd, Eddie Hidalgo, 56, said the man he called `Chef Arnold' was doing a great deed.
Abbott, a World War II veteran and civil rights activist, told The Associated Press that he has been serving the homeless for more than two decades. He has several programs, including a culinary school to train the homeless he serves and help find them jobs in local kitchens.
With tears in her eyes, Rosemarie Servoky broke through the crowd Wednesday night to hug Abbott. Servoky, 68 and a graduate of Arnold's culinary program from several years ago, said he saved her life.
"I was a crack addict. I was in a homeless shelter," said Servoky, who contacted the mayor to complain about the new law.
In the past two years, more than 30 cities have tried to introduce laws similar to Fort Lauderdale's, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless. The efforts come as more veterans face homelessness and after two harsh winters drove homeless people south, especially to Florida, said homeless expert Marbut. But he called the laws "gimmicky."
Fort Lauderdale's ordinance took effect Friday, and the city recently passed a slew of laws addressing homelessness. They ban people from leaving their belongings unattended, outlaw panhandling at medians and strengthen defecation and urination laws, according to Michael Stoops, director of community organizing for the National Coalition for the Homeless.
Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler said he thinks the three charged men have good intentions, but the city can't discriminate in enforcing the law. He said it was passed to ensure that public places are open to everyone.
"The parks have just been overrun and were inaccessible to locals and businesses," Seiler said.