Since 1990, the All Saints Catholic Mission has been serving food to those who might not be able to afford a meal. But zoning ordinances passed last year by the City of Oakland Park would force the parish to shut down its food-sharing operation.
Father Bob Caudill, who leads the organization, has been dodging the order for the past year, but last Tuesday, Broward sheriff’s deputies delivered a cease-and-desist letter from the city that insisted he stop operating or be fined. Again, Caudill refused. Instead, local supporters planned a peaceful rally outside Oakland Park Mayor Jed Shank’s home last night. About 30 people gathered along the sidewalk, holding signs and candles. Some spoke.
“It was quiet and respectful. It went very well,” Caudill said afterward. “The mayor came out and wouldn’t talk, but he listened.”
Caudill estimates that almost 150 people rely on All Saints Soup Kitchen each day. He knows of a few families who are sleeping in their cars. He vows to continue fighting for them. But it won’t be easy. The church has accrued more than $19,000 in legal fees fighting the zoning ordinance in court this past year. Since the cease-and-desist order, the church has been fined $500 a day.
“They think they’re cleaning up Oakland Park, but they’re really just pushing out the citizens who have the least,” Caudill said. “I won’t stop until I’ve used every play in the book and the government seizes my property.”
For years, business owners and residents have complained about the people the soup kitchen attracts, saying they loiter and defecate on their property. In July 2014, the zoning ordinance was changed as part of a new plan for that stretch of Powerline Road promoting high-density construction. It doesn’t explicitly ban soup kitchens but does specifically prohibit “parish houses” — defined as a “room or building associated with a church… for charitable use.”
A month ago, Caudill moved the kitchen a block away from a separate building into the actual church. It didn’t matter.
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Dawn Kuhns attended the vigil last night. She’s also frustrated with the city. Kuhns explains that she’s not a religious person but has volunteered at the soup kitchen multiple times. She was the most moved by a homeless woman who spoke to supporters.
“She said that she’s been coming to the soup kitchen for years, that it’s located walking distance from a bus stop and where others camp out,” Kuhns recalled. “She asked how she or others would get there if it moved to a random area.”
Caudill hopes it doesn’t come to that. In the meantime, he plans to meet with the American Civil Liberties Union of Broward to help with the legal battle. Next Wednesday, supporters plan another rally at the Oakland Park City Council meeting. The church is accepting donations to help with the legal battle on an online crowd-funding site.
“The best-case scenario is that the City of Oakland Park will back down and they’ll leave it to God and see what happens,” Caudill says.