Broward Judge Thomas Lynch has issued a temporary ban on arrests or citations for violating the controversial Fort Lauderdale ordinance that essentially banned feeding the homeless in public.
The ordinance, which was passed in October, made 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. Homeless advocates have argued that this effectively outlaws food sharing, because churches and nonprofit groups could not reasonably bear the associated costs.
Violators were facing up to 60 days in jail and fines of up to $500.
The City of Fort Lauderdale and Mayor Jack Seiler have been on the receiving end of bad PR from activists and the public over the ordinance, which saw 90-year-old chef and homeless advocate Arnold Abbott cited several times for feeding the homeless on Fort Lauderdale Beach.
Since the ordinance has made headlines, Seiler has received angry letters and has had protesters gather outside his home. Recently the hacktivist group Anonymous hacked into Fort Lauderdale's website in an online protest dubbed "Operation Lift the Bans." The bans Anonymous referred to are the new ordinance as well as the city's ban on panhandling and sleeping on public property.
Seiler has said he wants to work with Abbott and other advocates to find a suitable place for them to feed the homeless, but so far no agreement has been reached.
Abbott, who is also a World War II veteran, has been feeding the homeless every week since 1991 with his group Love Thy Neighbor. Despite being cited several times and facing possible jail time, Abbott made his intentions clear that he wouldn't stop helping the helpless.
And this is not the first time Abbott has had a run-in with the city.
In the 1990s, Abbott 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.
Just recently, Abbott, along with other activists, filed a lawsuit against the city over the new ordinance, calling it "government overreach."
Pastor Mark Simms of St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church was also cited for feeding the homeless. Simms' attorney, Bill Scherer, said they're willing to take the fight to the Supreme Court, if needed.
On Tuesday morning, Judge Lynch ruled that there are to be no arrests or citations for 30 days for violating the ordinance.
Abbott is due in court on Wednesday over his recent citations, when he'll learn if he'll be facing jail time. For the time being, Lynch asked both sides of the controversy to try to solve the issue.
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