By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Kyle Swenson
One hungry homeless man who gave his name as Felix and came to a Food Not Bombs sharing recalled living on the street in Los Angeles. "Food was everywhere there," he said. Here, in contrast, finding food and shelter is a chore.
The Salvation Army of Broward County provides daily dinners at its shelter and recently opened it to people who aren't living there. Attendance has doubled to about 60 per night, according to Director of Development Sally Gress. The Salvation Army also has two mobile food trucks that are generally used after emergencies. With more volunteers, these trucks could be used for food distribution. But they're waiting to see what law the city might pass: "We don't want to start something we can't continue," says Gress.
Behind the scenes, the city is working to end the mass feedings in public spaces. The effort to conceal goes back to an old lawsuit and a history of stopgap solutions. And it goes back to one man, a devout and cantankerous widower named Arnold Abbott.
Every Wednesday night, Abbott — now in his 80s, or "two years younger than God," as he says — brings a load of food he buys with federal grants and donations to Fort Lauderdale beach and serves dinner alfresco to "60 to 100 of [his] closest friends." He's been doing it for years, much to the city government's chagrin.
Following a legal case in Miami in which a judge decided that police couldn't arrest the homeless for vagrancy unless there was a designated "safe zone" where they could stay, Fort Lauderdale erected "Tent City," a crowded, makeshift homeless camp across from City Hall, in 1993. Abbott tried feeding the homeless there through the organization he named after his deceased wife, the Maureen A. Abbott Love Thy Neighbor Fund, but the city ordered him to stop. He also fed people on the beach but in 1998, he was ordered to stop there too.
He filed suit, and in the long legal battle that followed, a judge ruled that until an alternate site was found, Abbott could stay at the beach. By extension, that meant all the other groups that wanted to pass out food could continue doing so in public.
A decade later, the city is still looking for that alternative location.
(Tent City disbanded in 1999, when the city opened a Homeless Assistance Center, absorbing part of its population. Abbott now rents kitchen space and organizes cooking classes for the homeless there.)
In September 2009, the city convened a "Homeless Task Force" that includes city officials, homeless advocates, business interests, and (sometimes) Food Not Bombs. It has proposed a number of possible locations where food distribution could be allowed once the parks are off-limits. But every potential solution has so far been thwarted by a neighbor or business that doesn't want bums in its backyard.
"The task force has explored the idea of identifying an appropriate location where groups... could continue to [provide meals] in a coordinated, dignified manner," writes city spokesman Chaz Adams in an email. "The work being done by many faith-based, non-profit and community groups to assist the homeless in our community is commendable," he added.
Despite Adams' optimistic wording, City Attorney Harry Stewart concedes that his office is preparing legislation that could affect the food sharings. He says he has been tasked with finding "a solution to the homeless feeding problem." That "problem" includes the concentration of panhandling and people sleeping in parks, he says.
Back at Stranahan Park after dinner, one of the homeless men, tall with a shaved head and a wide smile, leaned back on his hands and looked in the direction of City Hall. It was blocked by the large Wells Fargo tower across the street. When it was his turn to speak, he told the group that he had been to a few task force meetings. Nothing worthwhile happened there, he said; the city's efforts to reach a consensus were "pathetic and ridiculous."
Sparkle fingers all around.
When he's not traveling or in jail, Jonathan Keith McHenry lives alone in a blue, 28-foot school bus on a $350-a-month plot of land outside Taos, New Mexico. He maintains the international Food Not Bombs website from the Wired? Coffee-Cyber-Cafe, a vegetarian-friendly spot with a dirt parking lot. He answers each call to his cell phone with a lilting, gentle "Hi, this is Keith with Food Not Bombs."
He keeps playing a role, first memorialized in a black-and-white photograph of his first arrest, in Golden Gate Park on August 15, 1988. Big beard, hair falling in boyish waves, a friendly but serious demeanor. He's written three books, and he lectures at colleges now, taking in a small fee for each appearance. "I try to get no less than $500, but in the past few years, sometimes I've had to take $250," he says. These fees go toward the upkeep of Food Not Bombs: telephone, vehicles, web hosting. He says he pays his rent and personal costs by doing occasional odd jobs and freelance graphic design.
It's been 30 years since he started Food Not Bombs. The group now has more than 1,000 chapters in 60 countries, McHenry estimates. There are chapters in Australia, Lithuania, Africa. In Reykjavik, where it's too cold to pick up pamphlets through winter gloves, McHenry has seen members wear antiwar messages on signboards.
Eat Do-Gooder should be REQUIRED to take 5 or 6 "homeless" people home with him so they can sleep, poop, barf and stink up their own lawn. Fair is fair after all.
LOL Bukker = word police! ;)
feeding the hungry is good, but teaching them to feed themselves would be better.
Al they are doing is enabling poor to survive. This is the low hanging fruit of the poor.
its kinda like a welfare program, when you give someone something you feel good, but haven't really helped or changed the situation.
so for the FNB people, they feel good that they feed some folks for a few days... but then what happens when they stop or move on? how did you change the life of the poor?
how doing something to change the situation, like some skills training?
Um...FNB is associated with a lot of training and social programs. In Sacramento they are affiliated with Fishes and Loaves.
So research before you speak.
Like Nanook said, are you going to volunteer to teach them skills WorkingGuy?
Probably not, but if you do then you might be on to something.
"The reason for the arrests? For years, residents near the park had complained that after the meals, homeless people disbursed into their neighborhood"Christ, do you people have any journalistic standards at all? I swear, you must be of the generation that believes that if MS Word doesn't flag it, it isn't wrong. "disbursed" means "Given funds, especially previously -allocated ones." The word you're looking for is "Dispersed", which means "spread out." God, the state of web-based journalism is miserable.
Oh my god a typo!!!!! This is ridiculous!!!! That makes this article completely false and misleading!!!!
You're a disbursed douchebag Bukkler!
You're correct -- fixed. Ten judges with the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals used "disbursed" as well (http://goo.gl/X9FRv), thus the mistake. Also, chill out.
I wish we had more young people like those in FNB. To many are cought up in the miteralistic rat race. The more the disparaty betwwen rich and poor widens the more people will be put on the street. And who will help, not the goverment!
How about Linux training? what's linux you ask? A computer language a lot of phones and computers use. if you have those skills you can get a job.
smart people can still find a job. low skilled people, are competing with china for jobs.. Education is the answer.
Everyone has an opportunity to get smarter and earn good incomes.
its up to you, how you choose to live your life...
the minute enough people want to contribute to the point that full-time volunteers can afford to train homeless people on computers i'm sure we can get started.
are you intending on helping make that happen? no? ohhhh, so you're just one of a million people who criticize without actually contributing to help the problem in any way whatsoever. how surprising.
want to feed the homeless in Ft Laud? Do it at Holiday park, not Stranahan park.
The homeless are NOT harmless. They are aggressive, and swarm around cars at the light, looking for money.
this in turn deters business, and tourist from coming to downtown, taking away commerce, and lowering those that do earn money, incomes.
This is just another enabler of the homeless. want to help, teach them a skill so they can earn their own food.
Sorry, no sympathy for food not bombs.
haters gotta hate.
as usual, you're perfectly willing to ignore the central conceit of fnb - no one has to go hungry in america. we produce more than enough for everyone, and your apathy to the waste amounts to denying food to the needy.