Despite the warm weather, Florida is one of the worst places to be homeless in the country. Almost every year, the state gets ragged on by the National Coalition for the Homeless for being one of the "meanest" in the union. Cities like Miami, Sarasota, Pensacola, and St. Pete have been specifically targeted for either passing laws or getting litigious regarding the rights of their most disenfranchised residents.
Now Fort Lauderdale is gearing up to join the list of places that activists say openly discriminate against the homeless. On the agenda for tonight's City Commission meeting are two ordinances that, if passed, would effectively ban homeless people there from relieving themselves or owning personal property.
"It seems harmless on the surface, but they're part of a series of laws that criminalizes activities homeless people need to perform in order to stay alive," says Nathan Pim, a volunteer with Food Not Bombs.
In January, the City Commission released a draft of several possible ordinances that would affect the homeless. Among them was one that would ban food-sharing programs like Food Not Bombs. A similar ban occurred in Orlando in 2011, resulting in volunteer arrests, huge protests, and hackers threatening the city. It was eventually overturned.
Although the food-share ban is not up for discussion tonight, those protesting City Hall think it's clearly on the horizon if these "Homeless Hate Laws," as they call them, are passed. Fort Lauderdale politicians haven't been so kind to hungry homeless people in the past. In 1981, future Mayor Robert Cox famously suggested pouring kerosene into the city's dumpsters so that no one could eat food from them.
Food Not Bombs is pretty good at kicking up a shitstorm and seeing results after everything settles. In February, it helped overturn a controversial and short-lived ban on Penacola's homeless having blankets. In 2011, it orchestrated a reversal of the meal limit placed on Gainesville's homeless shelters.
Protesters will meet at 5 p.m. in Stranahan Park. They will then head to City Hall for the meeting at 6. The activists hope that if there's enough presence at the meeting, they can beat back these encroaching ordinances too, at least for a little while.
"These situations are never won," Pim says. "You have victories or losses, and then you try again."