Arnold Abbott and Mayor Jack Seiler Face Off in Televised Debate
Arnold Abbott, the 90-year-old homeless advocate cited twice for feeding the homeless in Fort Lauderdale, met with Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler on the WPLG program This Week in South Florida Sunday morning for a friendly debate over the city's homeless ordinance.
Abbott has made headlines around the world after being cited twice for breaking a city ordinance that places restrictions on the sharing of food at outdoor sites. The new restrictions require that feedings be located 500 feet from any residence and that feeders provide portable toilets. On the program, Seiler expressed his appreciation for Abbott but said he wants the homeless advocate and his volunteers to feed the homeless at a "proper location."
For his part, Abbott says he expects to be back on Fort Lauderdale Beach on Wednesday, where he has been cited for feeding the homeless. Abbott has been feeding them there every week for years.
After the television appearance, Abbott and volunteers from his nonprofit Love Thy Neighbors fed the homeless in Fort Lauderdale. Pastor Sam Green at the Fifth Avenue Temple offered his church to help Abbott and the homeless stay out of the rain.
The church, located on 211 NW Fifth Ave., is a few blocks from Stranahan Park, where Abbott sometimes feeds the homeless.
"What Arnold is doing is actually a very kind and compassionate act," Seiler said during his TV appearance with Abbott. "We're just simply asking him to do it in a proper location."
"We have tried many, many times to find indoor locations to feed the homeless," Abbott retorted. "And they have not been available to us."
Seiler apologized to Abbott for having the message being lost since the ordinance was voted in by city commissioners in October.
"We were wrong in not getting the word out sooner," he said. "And in fairness to Arnold, we should have sat down with him, making sure that he was onboard. But obviously that message got lost, and I apologize."
On Friday, Seiler released a statement in response to the hundreds of angry emails over Abbott's run-in with police and over the city's ordinance.
"Contrary to reports, the City of Fort Lauderdale is not banning groups from feeding the homeless," part of the release reads. "At two recent outdoor food distributions, citations were rightly issued for non-compliance with the process enacted to ensure public health and safety. Contrary to what was reported in the media, no one was taken into custody. Had these activities taken place indoors, at a house of worship, they would have been in full compliance with the ordinance."
Still, Abbott says he and Love Thy Neighbor, will meet again on Wednesday to feed the homeless on Fort Lauderdale Beach.
"We will continue as long as there is breath in my body," he told the Sun Sentinel on Sunday.
Last Wednesday, Abbott drew a large crowd of supporters and news cameras as he went about serving food to the homeless in his usual spot on Fort Lauderdale Beach, behind Bahia Mar.
Forty-five minutes into the feeding, Fort Lauderdale Police cited him and shut down the feeding as onlookers chanted Abbott's name in support.
Abbott could be facing up to 60 days in jail or be fined $500. But the threat of jail time isn't fazing him or other homeless advocates.
Meanwhile, other homeless advocates have had run-ins with the police as well in the past week.
Abbott did say he is willing to move away from feeding the homeless at Stranahan Park if the the city would provide his group with an indoor facility to do its work.
"I'll be delighted to work with you," Seiler told Abbott upon hearing this.
But for now, there is no such location.
"I'm waiting for the mayor to come through with his promise," Abbott said while feeding the homeless at the church following the debate.
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