Last week, as we were talking to Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler about sea turtles, we were also finishing up this week's cover story, Food Fight. The story chronicles the ongoing struggle of Food Not Bombs to pass out free food and attract attention to its political message.
So, as the mayor was backing into a parking spot, we asked him if he'd finally respond to our requests for comment on the rogue group that's become an important food source for the homeless. We'd initially requested an interview.
"Look, we all want to assist the homeless," he began. "That's a very worthy cause."
But the mayor is pushing for something along the lines of what the Homeless Task Force has been recommending to the City Commission, a single service center where all groups could legally share meals, staying out of parks.
"In addition to providing meals, this type of facility could also serve as a central resource center, offering referrals for shelter, housing, health care, employment, veterans affairs, social security, substance abuse, and other services," says city spokesman Chaz Adams.
Seiler says he supports this because he wants to get people off the street instead of just letting them survive outside. "I believe that the best way you can help the homeless is not just to feed them a meal that's getting them to the next meal but have more of an impact and turn their life around... My goal is to reduce the number of homeless on the street."
That's a worthy goal, but it may prove unreasonably idealistic at this point (something for which the young Food Not Bombs activists typically get the blame): Local government and charity resources are already heavily stretched.
"Until the day arises when people are only on the street because they choose to be, that argument is invalid," says Robin Martin of HOPE South Florida, a coalition of the area's largest churches working to help the homeless.
As far as Food Not Bombs in particular, Seiler says, "I haven't had any run-ins with them, but I don't necessarily agree with their approach."
He also objects to claims that the city is turning a blind eye to the problem. "This isn't a City Commission that doesn't care about the homeless," he says, noting that he recently voted to expand the Homeless Assistance Center, an emergency shelter and food pantry on Sunrise Boulevard.
But with multiple proposals on a feeding location meeting resistance from various interest groups, the commission hasn't yet been able to act on the task force's recommendations, and talks haven't been too productive lately. "Pathetic and ridiculous," one homeless man in our story called the situation.
"The thing is kind of stalled," says Seiler. "A lot of different people put up roadblocks to the different options we're looking at. Our job as policymakers is to try to come up with a solution."
Food Not Bombs already has a solution: "Feed everybody, rich or poor, stoned or sober." Whether or not that fits the policy.
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