Ever since Fort Lauderdale became infamous for the viral image of a 90-year-old man getting busted by police for feeding the homeless, Mayor Jack Seiler has been on damage-control duty, telling local and national media that his city has actually expanded the number of public feedings, mostly through churches. But a pastor who works with the homeless says that's not true.
"[Seiler] has been going around the country touting everything's fine, when in reality it's not," says Frank Pontillo, co-pastor at Remar USA, a Christian ministry. "He was trying to play to the average person who doesn't know what's going on in Fort Lauderdale and using the churches as political cover because it sounds really nice."
Pontillo says many churches don't have the size or the facilities to accommodate public feedings of 100 or more people. As of now, there are only four days a week where public feedings take place, and Pontillo says the other three days are filled in by homeless advocacy groups like Food Not Bombs, which has been vocal against the antifeeding laws.
"The problem is we need the outside groups because we're not getting enough from churches," Pontillo explains. "And it's a shame the mayor wants to demonize these people who are doing the work to fill in the gaps."
Seiler, however, insists there are plenty of feedings.
But when ABC 10 News' Bob Norman asked the mayor where are all these "dozens and dozens" of feedings, Seiler became irate, saying, "I don't keep a list in my pocket of feedings" before accusing the reporter of "ambushing" him with a gotcha question.
New Times reached out to the mayor's office to see if an official number of homeless feeding sites exist. We'll update when we hear back.
As for Pontillo, he says the homeless ordinances need to be overturned altogether.
"It's not just the feeding ordinance. It's the camping ban, the personal storage ban, all of it," he says, referring to ordinances that have also come under fire for how they affect the homeless.
"When you tell a person he can't sleep on private property and then tell them they can't sleep on public property, you're making them a criminal -- and that's oppressive," Pontillo says. "These laws are designed so they can round people up and throw them in jail."