Food Not Bombs of Fort Lauderdale has filed a federal lawsuit against Fort Lauderdale over the city's recent homeless feeding ordinance. The group is saying that the city violated its First and Fourth amendment rights through the regulations passed in October last year. Since the ordinance was passed, members of Food Not Bombs have continued to defy it and feed the homeless at Stranahan Park in downtown Fort Lauderdale. They say that the ordinance keeps them from practicing their freedom of expression, speech, and association.
The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, is asking for the ordinance to be struck down as well as for the group to be awarded damages for said violations. The group has in the past called this ordinance a "homeless hate law." A series of five ordinances was passed by the city in 2014 to crack down on the homeless population. They were designed to stop panhandling and discourage people from sleeping on public property.
The plaintiffs named in the suit are Food Not Bombs members Nathan and Jillian Pim, Haylee Becker, and William Toole. Back in November, Jillian held a hunger strike in protest of the ordinance.
The ordinance made national headlines after then-90-year-old homeless advocate Arnold Abbott received multiple citations and the threat of jail time for feeding the homeless. The ordinance places restrictions on the sharing of food at outdoor sites, requiring that feedings be located 500 feet from any residence and that feeders provide portable toilets and hand-washing stations.
Over the past several months, Mayor Jack Seiler has received angry letters and has had protesters gather outside his home. Even the hacktivist group Anonymous got in on it when they hacked into the City of Fort Lauderdale's website in an online protest dubbed "Operation Lift the Bans."
Seiler has said he wants to work with Abbott and other advocates.
On December 2, Broward Judge Thomas Lynch issued a temporary ban on the isuing of citations for violating the ordinance so that the two sides could come up with a solution. The ban had been set for 30 days before a second hearing with the judge was held.
"At the last hearing before Judge Lynch on December 22, the city voluntarily offered to suspend enforcement of the ordinance for a period of 45 days," Fort Lauderdale's Public Affairs Manager Chaz Adams tells New Times. According to Adams, this was done "to allow the city and Mr. Abbott to enter into settlement negotiations."
"I have challenged laws across the state of Florida that seek to criminalize homelessness and the work of homeless advocates, and this one is among the most cruel and senseless," said attorney Kirsten Clanton, who is lead council with Southern Legal Counsel, in a statement. "Unfortunately, Fort Lauderdale has joined a growing number of cities in Florida and across the nation in criminalizing the innocent conduct of sharing food with another human being. It is outrageous that the City would waste police and court resources to criminalize the innocent conduct of sharing food with another human being simply because of its misguided belief that the availability of food perpetuates homelessness."
"The right to engage in political protest is at the heart of our democracy," added co-counsel Andrea Costello. "The City of Fort Lauderdale is enforcing laws which attempt to make Food Not Bombs' lawful political organizing a criminal act -- taking political action to share food with those who are hungry while speaking out for human rights is not a crime."
The plaintiffs are being represented by Southern Legal Counsel, the Legal Advocacy Center of Central Florida, and the Law Offices of Mara Shlackman. You can read the full lawsuit below.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to New Times Broward-Palm Beach's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling South Florida's stories with no paywalls.