Fort Lauderdale Commissioners Set to Vote on Ordinance That Would Restrict Feeding the Homeless

Fort Lauderdale city commissioners will be voting tonight on the proposed ordinance that could cripple groups that distribute food to the city's homeless.

The crux of the ordinance deals with applying rules on food handling, providing toilet facilities and 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.

On the surface, the rules seem to have good intentions, with commissioners contending that passing the ordinance would protect the homeless from illnesses caused by ill-prepared foods. Homeless advocates, however, say that the ordinance will restrict them from doing what they can for the homeless. Having to provide toilet facilities and hand-washing areas is not only a hassle but expensive -- particularly for nonprofit groups.

But more to the point, the ordinance would represent yet another obstacle to helping Fort Lauderdale's homeless, who have become more and more marginalized over the past few months.

See also: Fort Lauderdale Looking Into More Homeless Crackdown Laws

If passed, this would be the fifth ordinance that would criminalize homelessness in Fort Lauderdale in the past six months.

Commissioners have already passed an ordinance giving police the authority to confiscate a homeless person's possessions after a 24-hour notice and keep the possessions 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."

Tuesday's ordinance would require written consent and compliance with food-service industry standards, such as having consent from the owner of a specific property where good was being served, as well as restroom facilities having to be made available. The groups would also have to have specific equipment for hand-washing and adhere to a specific procedure.

In addition to these restrictions, the area where food is being served will have to be more than 500 feet from any residential property.

Moreover, only one food service operation license will be issued within any calendar quarter for the same street address.

A recent study by the National Coalition for the Homeless says that these restrictions would make it pretty impossible for groups to meet the standards laid out by the ordinance.

"It would be challenging to meet all of the standards in an outdoor setting; therefore, food distributors may be forced to find more remote indoor locations to distribute meals," the study, titled Share No More: The Criminalization of Efforts to Feed People In Need, states. "Indoors, they will be held to the food-safety standards of any food-service establishment. They will likely struggle to repeatedly serve food in a familiar location and face recurring fines each time they fail to comply with the many stringent regulations."

In response to the ordinance, several citizens stepped up and expressed their concerns to the commissioners during the ordinance's first reading back on October 8.

Speakers included Dr. Josh Loomis, a microbiology professor at Nova Southeastern and homeless advocate who told commissioners that there is very little evidence showing that there would be an outbreak of food poisoning in public feedings.

Loomis also accused the commissioners of, instead of coming up with thoughtful solutions to fix the homeless issues of the city, resorting to Band-Aids to push the homeless out of the city -- something that will ultimately fail.

According to the National Coalition, one of the greatest myths floating around is the notion that if the homeless are no longer fed, they'll move on and disappear.

"This is a multidimensional problem, and it should be approached in that manner," the study says. "To make homelessness disappear, cities have to be creative and address all the root causes of homelessness."

A homeless woman also addressed the commission during the reading reflected on how they might be taking away the ability of those who help her to continue to do so.

As for Tuesday's vote, Food Not Bombs Fort Lauderdale has announced a rally at City Hall, located at 100 N. Andrews Ave. in Fort Lauderdale, just before the meeting takes place at 6 p.m.

Part of the rally will include food sharing for the homeless outside of City Hall.

The sharing ban is slated to take effect on October 31, after which numerous food-sharing groups and their supporters have pledged to continue feeding the homeless. 

Food Sharing2014 by Chris Joseph

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