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FT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) – Arriving like a rock star, Arnold Abbott was greeted with cheers and crowds of supporters on Fort Lauderdale Beach.
He showed up just after 5 p.m. to dish out meals to the homeless, just like he does every Wednesday. Though the spot isn’t sanctioned for feeding, Abbott went to work and unlike other recent feedings, he was allowed to continue.
“This is not only a feeding issue,” he said before serving food, “this is a civil rights issue. Everyone in the world has the right to come to this beautiful beach and eat a meal on this beautiful beach.”
Abbott has been feeding the homeless on the same beach spot for years, and despite the new ordinance and two citations, he plans to continue.
Police told Abbott that they would send him a citation in the mail, but allowed him to continue feeding the homeless.
“The city of Fort Lauderdale understands the humanitarian need,” said Captain John Labandera.
City officials said they would allow him use of the city’s Aquatic Complex to conduct his feeding this week. Abbott rejected the offer, saying that a court order from 2000 allows him to conduct homeless feedings at the beach on religious grounds.
“It’s very simple,” he said, “It went to court 15 years ago to prevent that from happening and that law is still in effect.”
His supporters said the Aquatic Center is not a viable option.
“This is a temporary solution. This area will be torn up in six months and then they’ll be out on the streets,” said Pastor Dwayne Black.
The city then offered a second site – the Church by the Sea at 2700 Mayan Drive. Abbott again said no. He stated the city is in violation of a previous court order that allowed him to set up operation there.
Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler questioned why he rejected both locations.
“I cannot understand why he would not accept that being that what we want to see him do is feed the homeless. What he wants to do is feed the homeless,” said Mayor Seiler. “Now he has two offers where he can feed the homeless in a safe, sanitary manner.”
City Commissioner Dean Trantalis said allowing the feeding was the right thing to do.
“We did not engage in any enforcement action,” Trantalis said. “We’re not arresting him. We’re not telling him to stop feeding the homeless because the goal here is to help the individuals who come here to have a square meal tonight.”
It’s clear there’s no ill will between Abbott and the police.
“I’m very grateful that they allowed us to feed,” Abbott said. “That’s what we’re here for.”
But Abbott said he would continue feeding the homeless at the beach while fighting the city in court.
In addition to Abbott’s motion filed on Wednesday, a pastor at the center of this fight said that some powerful attorneys are planning to file suit against the city to stop the law or to ask for a pause in the enforcement of this law to try and work out a deal with the city and work on a solution long-term.
Earlier in the day homeless advocates protested in front of Seiler’s home in response to the city’s ordinance of outdoor feedings of those in need. They chanted, “Hey Jack, what do you say, how many homeless have you starved today?”
“The elites in the city find homeless people to be a nuisance and want them to go away,” said Laura Hansen who is with the Coalition to End Homelessness. “I’m really concerned that it sets a dangerous precedent of treating people who are poor as subhuman.”
Homeless Voice founder Sean Cononie and about two dozen people took part in the protest on Wednesday.
The plan was to spread the word that elected officials can no longer make laws that target a certain class of people.
“This mayor and commission has selectively targeted homeless people and is making homelessness a crime,” Cononie said.
The mayor was not home during the protest.
Cononie said they plan to protest in front of Seiler’s home for a few days and may even spread their protest to other commissioners’ homes.
“We’re going to attempt to buy a home in the area and turn it into a small homeless church where the mayor himself could actually help out,” Cononie said.
Those protesting want what they call the criminalization of homeless people repealed.
“This law should be rescinded and that all cities in country learn from this and do not make laws like this,” said Fred Wucher who is homeless.
Click here to read Fort Lauderdale’s homeless feeding ordinance.
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