Arnold Abbott, 90-Year-Old Activist, Cited Again for Feeding Homeless

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Arnold Abbott, the 90-year-old who was issued a citation earlier this week for feeding the homeless without adhering to new rules that would require him to obtain a permit and provide portable toilets, was cited again Wednesday night for the same reason.

Abbott since 1991 has made it a weekly habit to feed the hungry every Wednesday by the beach with his group, Love Thy Neighbor. Following his arrest being cited Sunday, Abbott made his intentions clear that he wouldn't stop helping the helpless. He says he expected to be stopped by police again, and he was.

Abbott's first arrest run-in with police drew massive attention to the new city ordinance that makes it unlawful for groups to feed the homeless in public areas unless they provide hand washing and toilet facilities, get permits and feed only in certain locations. The ordinance was passed in October. Homeless advocates say this effectively outlaws the food sharing, because churches and nonprofit groups could not reasonably bear the associated costs.

See also: Eight Protesters Arrested for Trying to Meet With City Officials Over Homeless Laws; One Is Hunger-Striking

For nearly 25 years, Abbott has been feeding the hungry through the organization he named after his deceased wife, the Maureen A. Abbott Love Thy Neighbor Fund. In the 1990s he sued Fort Lauderdale after he was ordered to stop feedings on the beach. A judge ruled that he could continue until an alternate site was found, and he's done so ever since. The city, meanwhile, has struggled to to help business owners who complain that homeless people drive away business.

On Wednesday, Abbott drew a large crowd of supporters and news cameras as he went about serving those in need in his usual spot on Fort Lauderdale Beach, behind Bahia Mar.

But soon enough, four police officers approached Abbott to lead him away. As they ushered him through the crowd, chants broke out calling out his name. Others yelled out "Shame!"

The Fort Lauderdale officers watched the group feed the homeless for a good 45 minutes before doing anything. But when Abbott began doing an interview with a Channel 10 news crew, the officers moved in and escorted Abbott away from the cameras and issued the citation and took his fingerprints.

Before the officers showed up, Abbott and his group were able to feed more than 100 plates of chicken stew, pasta, potatoes, and fruit salad to the homeless.

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.

On Tuesday, eight members of Food Not Bombs were arrested after they refused to leave the office of Chris Wren, executive director of Fort Lauderdale's Downtown Development Authority, whom they had hoped to speak with about the ordinance.

The group claim that they were told they could wait for Wren to show up and meet with them. But after someone called police, they were arrested. For his part, Wren claims that one of the member of the group threatened his assistant.

In letter sent to constituents who complained to him, Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler lamented that people believed Abbott had been arrested (he was not taken into custody but rather cited and given a notice to appear in court at a later date). He described the food-sharing restrictions as a way to alleviate a "public safety hazard" and wrote:

Contrary to reports, the City is not banning groups from feeding the homeless. We have established an outdoor food distribution ordinance to ensure the health, safety and welfare of our community. The ordinance does not prohibit feeding the homeless; it regulates the activity in order to ensure it is carried out in an appropriate, organized, clean, and healthy manner.

At a recent outdoor food distribution, 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.

He laid out the city's efforts to help the homeless:

Fort Lauderdale was the first City in South Florida to establish a dedicated Homeless Assistance Unit as part of its police department. This unit makes approximately 8,000 referrals a year working with the homeless to provide them with access to housing, critical medical care, and social services. The award-winning initiative stands as a model that has been replicated by local, state, and national police departments and law enforcement agencies across the country.

Fort Lauderdale is home to the only full-service comprehensive Homeless Assistance Center in Broward County. The center has been operating here since 1999. Last June, the Fort Lauderdale City Commission unanimously passed an ordinance allowing the Homeless Assistance Center to expand its size and scope of operations to accommodate more beds and serve more homeless.

The city maintains an active partnership with Mission United, an organization dedicated to providing housing and social services to homeless veterans.

In addition to Mission United, the City maintains partnerships, provides resources and support to Broward County, the Broward Partnership for Homeless, Housing Authority of the City of Fort Lauderdale, Salvation Army of Broward County, United Way of Broward County, Hope South Florida, and the Task Force for Ending Homelessness. These partnerships represent an outstanding example of how homelessness needs to be addressed - by bringing together a variety of agencies and organizations to collaborate, share resources, and leverage strengths in a unified effort to comprehensively impact homelessness through the coordination and delivery of essential programs and services.

Fort Lauderdale is the only city in South Florida and one of 235 communities in the United States taking part in the 100,000 Homes Campaign, a national effort to move disabled, chronically homeless people from the street to a place of their own. Using the motto "Housing First," the campaign reverses the traditional approach that required the homeless to go through addiction counseling and job training before earning a roof over their heads.

Through the Housing First program, Fort Lauderdale is providing the most vulnerable homeless individuals with housing, medical, and social services. The program is funded by a $441,000 federal grant that the City of Fort Lauderdale secured from HUD. It is currently providing permanent supportive housing for 22 chronically homeless people.

The City is proud to report that our initiative was recently re-funded by HUD. During the current year, we will have an additional $455,000 to continue to operate and expand this effort to serve even more chronic and vulnerable homeless in our City.

Send your story tips to the author, Chris Joseph. Follow Chris Joseph on Twitter

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