Fort Lauderdale Commissioners Looking at Proposal That May Make It Tough for Churches to Feed Homeless (UPDATED)
Update (Correction): The original post on this commission meeting incorrectly reported that the vote did not take place. The first reading of the proposal specifically covered rules for food handling, providing toilet facilities, hand washing areas, and requirements on how and when the food should be served, particularly for groups that service the homeless outdoors and in parks. Fort Lauderdale Commissioners did tentatively approve the ordinance that puts up restrictions on how churches and other groups can feed the city's homeless, with a second vote coming in two weeks.
Commissioners contend that passing the proposal would protect the homeless from illnesses caused by ill-prepared foods. Homeless advocates maintain that the ordinance will restrict them from doing what they can for the homeless. A second reading and final vote is scheduled to take place on October 21.
Original post: Fort Lauderdale city commissioners might be on the verge of passing even more stringent laws against the homeless in the city.
On Tuesday night, the City Council met to discuss a new ordinance that would limit homeless people being fed by churches or in parks.
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Although the meeting never went beyond discussing the ordinance without a vote, due to some technicalities, the city could be close to adding more rules that many consider hate laws toward the city's homeless.
Fort Lauderdale began its homeless crackdown back in January, when, during a public workshop, it was announced that the city planned to pass ordinances that would effectively ban groups from sharing food with the homeless and make it illegal for the homeless to store their personal belongings on public property.
In April, the city passed the ordinance, meaning that police have the authority to confiscate a homeless person's possessions after a 24-hour notice and keep them in storage until the person either pays a fee or can prove that he or she has no means to pay that fee.
There's also the encampment ordinance, which prevents the homeless from sleeping, eating, and encamping themselves in a public area with their belongings.
The Fort Lauderdale commission has argued that these laws are more about aesthetics; as the encampment ordinance puts it, "the City of Fort Lauderdale has a substantial interest in the revitalization, preservation of property values and the prevention of the deterioration in its downtown."
Yet now comes the discussion of passing an ordinance that will restrict food-distribution centers.
Per the proposed ordinance, these food-distribution centers must not be any closer than 500 feet from a residential property, provide restroom facilities or other similar facilities for persons, and provide an indoor dining area that meets all state, county, and city requirements for food-service establishments or similar uses, among other requirements.
While the requirements seem harmless and practice common sense on paper, some feel that the list of restrictions will make it harder for churches and other groups to feed the homeless -- particularly in parks and other open-air areas.
Frank Pontillo, a volunteer with a city church that helps the homeless, says the ordinance handcuffs the work churches like his are trying to do.
"They are proposing an ordinance incorporating difficult prohibitions designed to prevent feeding homeless people in churches or parks," he tells New Times. "There is an ongoing homeless hate movement in the Fort Lauderdale city government."
This, in turn, will only exacerbate the problem.
"Desperate people do desperate things," he says. "The city will learn that taking people out of the churches and sending them into the streets hungry will result in more problems for the city."
Tuesday's meeting didn't get to the ordinance until well past 1 a.m., according to Pontillo, who attended. A little more than 20 people opposing the ordinance spoke at the meeting, expressing concerns about the proposal.
The ordinance never got to a vote due to some confusion over language in the ordinance and who exactly drafted it.
"There was a lot of confusion on the commission," Pontillo says. "Seems like they delegated someone to draft the ordinance and they did not really know what was going on."
All in all, those who stood up expressed their frustration with a seeming lack of compassion toward the city's homeless from the commission.
"The question that many asked was 'What is this supposed to accomplish other than making it more difficult for already cashed-strapped churches, ministries, and already desperate poor people?'" Pontillo says.
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