90-year-old among first charged under Fort Lauderdale's strict rules against feeding homeless

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Fort Lauderdale police say Arnold Abbott violated a new city law, but the 90-year-old homeless advocate says his only crime was to “love thy neighbor.”

Abbott was charged Sunday along with two local pastors with violating the city’s new ordinance that effectively bans giving out food in public. He faces 60 days in jail and a $500 fine, and he intends to get cited again Wednesday night, when he sets out to feed some of the Florida city’s estimated 10,000 homeless on a public beach.

“The homeless people come here for the weather. They know they won’t freeze to death in Fort Lauderdale.”

- Arnold Abbott, homeless advocate

“I know that I will be arrested again, and I am prepared for that,” Abbott said by phone from his office at Love Thy Neighbor, Inc., a nonprofit he established in honor of his wife, Maureen, after her death in a car accident 23 years ago. “I am my brother’s keeper, and what they are doing is just heartless.”

Fort Lauderdale passed an ordinance late last month that included a slate of new regulations on where and how groups can provide food to homeless people.  The vote made the city the 13th in the nation since 2012 to pass restrictions on where people can feed the homeless, according to a report by the National Coalition for the Homeless.

The regulations enacted in Fort Lauderdale state that no two indoor feeding sites can be within 500 feet of one another or on the same block; outdoor feeding programs require a permit or permission of the property owner and must provide portable toilets; and outdoor stations cannot be within 500 feet of residential properties.

Abbott, whose charity has battled city officials for years in court and on the streets of the southern Florida city, said the toilet requirement was too much for his group.

“I have tried to abide by their regulations, but we just are not able to provide a port-a-potty,” he said. “I believe that is the job of the municipality, anyway.”

Cited along with Abbott were Dwayne Black, pastor of The Sanctuary Church in Fort Lauderdale, and Mark Sims of St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church in Coral Springs, according to the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. Although the three were not handcuffed or taken to jail, they were cited and must appear in court or face a bench warrant.

Fort Lauderdale officials defended the ordinance, saying it does not bar people from helping the hungry.

"The ordinance allows for legal, clean and safe distribution of food to the homeless," said Fort Lauderdale Police Department Det. DeAnna Greenlaw. "For example, if a minister, priest or member of clergy wishes to provide food to the homeless at their establishment (I.e community hall, church or gathering place) they can do so if the proper facilities, as listed in the ordinance, are in place."

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