One Year After Outcry, Groups Are Still Feeding Homeless Despite Ban

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Since 2010, Jillian Pim has been laying out spreads of vegan dishes weekly at a pavilion in Stranahan Park in downtown Fort Lauderdale, sharing food with others who might not be able to afford a healthy meal. Pim is part of Food Not Bombs, a grassroots group that believes society could end hunger and poverty if war and militarization resources were reappropriated.

On October 31, 2014, Pim and other Food Not Bombs members continued serving plates of warm, nutritious food as they did every Friday. They were unfazed that a city ordinance, which had gone into effect that day, now made their weekly gatherings illegal. The new law dictated that all Fort Lauderdale feeding sites would require a permit, permission from property owners, and certain amenities like toilets and sinks.

I don’t think anyone with an ounce of morality would want to arrest people giving food to people who are starving, Pim remembers thinking. “Sharing food is our form of protest, our right to free speech.”

But Fort Lauderdale Police officers swarmed the park. In November 2014, two members who continued to feed homeless individuals were arrested and taken into custody. Five others were issued notices to appear, charged with “providing social services in the Stranahan Park Pavilion.”

The news sparked international outrage when two clergymen and 90-year-old Arnold Abbott were arrested. They’re part of Love Thy Neighbor, another Fort Lauderdale food-sharing group.

Food Not Bombs sued the City of Fort Lauderdale, declaring that the ban was a violation of their First Amendment liberties and an unlawful prior restraint. Abbott and another clergyman likewise filed suit. Pim even embarked on a hunger strike. She lost 33 pounds in 24 days before her health started deteriorating and she had to stop.

“I’m still not at my starting weight,” Pim says now, almost a year later.

Despite the ban, Pim and other Food Not Bomb members continue to share food every Friday at Stranahan Park despite the ordinance. No one has been arrested or cited since November 24, 2014, when a Broward judge ordered that the ordinance not be enforced. In fact, the outrage over the ban attracted new members, like 28-year-old Cara Reaser.

“When I heard about the ban, I knew it was so wrong and had to do something to help in some way,” Reaser says. “I’ve learned that it’s the people who have the least — most people in the group have been homeless at one time or another — who are willing to give the most. It’s the most wonderful community that I’ve ever been a part of.”

Now, on the one-year anniversary of the ban — or the “banniversary,” as the group calls it — a week’s worth of events are planned to raise awareness against Fort Lauderdale’s homeless hate laws. After all, the ordinance is still in place. And the lawsuits are still winding through the courts.

On Friday, October 30, Food Not Bombs will hold its regular weekly Friday-afternoon sharing at Stranahan Park. On Saturday, October 31, the group will join again at Stranahan Park in Halloween costumes to play park games like Frisbee and soccer. On Sunday, November 1, there will be a homeless hate laws protest along US1. On Monday, November 2, it’s holding a food-sharing event with Arnold Abott and Love Thy Neighbor for lunch at Stranahan Park to mark the anniversary of Abbott’s arrest. And on Tuesday, the group will speak to commissioners about the ban in an “entertaining” way. On Wednesday, it will start a monthly food-sharing event in Sistrunk. And on Friday, November 6, there will be a "musical street march" through downtown Fort Lauderdale before the scheduled food-sharing at Stranahan Park (except it will be at 4:30 p.m. instead of 5 because of the updated park hours and time change).

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