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Fort Lauderdale Charges 90-Year-Old, Two Pastors for Feeding Homeless

Image: Arnold Abbott

Homeless activist Arnold Abbott, 90, is confronted by police for violating a Fort Lauderdale, Fl. ordinance virtually banning feeding homeless people in public. Ed Cabrera

Two church pastors and a 90-year-old man were charged for feeding homeless people in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, under a strict new city ordinance that virtually bans private groups from handing out food.

Despite a looming court date and the threat of being fined or jailed for violating the ordinance, the men said they plan to feed more needy later Wednesday.

Homeless activist Arnold Abbott, 90, and Christian ministers Dwayne Black of the Sanctuary Church in Fort Lauderdale and Mark Sims of St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church in Coral Springs were handing out meals in a park on Sunday, two days after Fort Lauderdale's ordinance took effect, when police approached them with their sirens flashing, Black said. The three were issued citations and face a $500 fine or 60 days in jail.

"This is not how our government is supposed to work," Black told NBC News. "These are people who need to be fed, and we will be feeding [again] today at 5 o'clock."

The ordinance — the fourth one that Fort Lauderdale has passed this year concerning the homeless — requires groups handing out food to homeless to be at least 500 feet away from residential properties. It limits feeding sites for homeless to one in any given city block, and prevent feeding sites from being within 500 feet of each other.

Black said the threat of police charging them again won't stop him and Abbott, who runs a non-profit organization called Feed Thy Neighbor, from handing out meals on a public beach Wednesday evening.

"As a Christian, it's pretty clear," he said. "Feed thy sheep. Take care of them."

Fort Lauderdale police said they were aware of Black and Abbott's plans, and said they had clashed with Abbott before.

"This individual was aware of the ordinance. He was warned, and when he violated the ordinance even after being warned is when he was issued the notice to appear," Fort Lauderdale Detective DeAnna Greenlaw said.

Abbott, who Black describes as "the Mother Teresa" of community service to homeless people, successfully sued the city in 1999 for trying to stop him from feeding homeless, reported local10.com in Florida. Abbott did not immediately return phone calls from NBC News, but told local10.com he would sue again.

"These are the poorest of the poor. They have nothing. They don't have a roof over their heads. How do you turn them away?" he said.

A court date for the three men has not yet been set.

Legislative action criminalizing the distribution of food to homeless people is picking up speed across the U.S. More than 30 cities have passed or are considering such bans, with advocates arguing that allowing ministries and others to hand out meals aggravates homelessness by luring homeless people away from city-run programs.