Feed the homeless, go to jail

The city of Fort Lauderdale has made do-gooderism illegal.

A 90 year old man who has been feeding the homeless for decades has been arrested twice in the last week for refusing to obey a law that makes it illegal for private citizens to feed the homeless.

Reuters:

For decades, 90-year-old Arnold Abbott has hauled pans filled with roast chicken and cheese-covered potatoes onto a south Florida beach park to feed hundreds of homeless people.

For his good deeds, Abbott finds himself facing up to two months in jail and hundreds of dollars in fines after new laws that restrict public feeding of the homeless went into effect in Fort Lauderdale earlier this year.

“I’ve been fighting for the underdog all my life, so this is nothing new,” Abbott said.

He was first cited last Sunday, along with two clergymen and a volunteer from his nonprofit, Love Thy Neighbor.

On Wednesday, several police cars waited for Abbott at a downtown Fort Lauderdale park, and officers pulled aside the frail man, clad in a white chef’s coat, soon after the first plates were ready to be served.

“The ordinance does not prohibit feeding the homeless; it regulates the activity in order to ensure it is carried out in an appropriate, organized, clean and healthy manner,” Fort Lauderdale Mayor John P. Seiler said in a statement.

Abbott moved to Florida from Massachusetts in 1970 and was a civil rights activist and wholesale jewelry salesman. He and his wife first began feeding the homeless on their own in 1979. He started the foundation and feeding full time in 1991 after his wife died, in a tribute to her memory.

The dispute highlights a debate between two schools of homeless rights activists: Those who argue that banning public feeding criminalizes the homeless, and others who say feeding and panhandling helps keep them on the street.

Since January 2013, 21 cities across the country have passed laws restricting public feedings and 10 more have similar rules under consideration, according to an October report from the National Coalition to the Homeless. Nationwide, at least 57 cities have limited or banned public feeding.

"One of the reasons these kinds of ordinances are being embraced is that this is what cities can do without spending money,” said Jerry Jones, the coalition’s executive director.

A widely agreed-upon solution - giving the longtime homeless beds as they work their way into treatment programs - is too costly for many municipalities that struggle with homelessness.

In truth, we don't have a homeless problem in America as much as we have a mental health problem. Once the law was changed to allow mentally ill people out in the world rather than institutionalized as long as they were not a danger to themselves or others, the homeless population exploded.

These people are dysfunctional without their meds and even if they can get them, many refuse to take them. Instead, they self medicate on illegal drugs and alcohol, causing even more problems.

I sympathize with the city's dilemma but arresting 90 year old do gooders is not the answer. More halfway houses need to be built and staffed. More research is needed to find psychotropic drugs with fewer and less severe side effects. Mental health laws need to be examined and amended. The whole panoply of issues related to homelessness and mental health need to be addressed.

It won't be cheap. It will probably be controversial. But a commitment to deal with the problem is the first step. And Fort Lauderdale doesn't appear to want to take it.

The city of Fort Lauderdale has made do-gooderism illegal.

A 90 year old man who has been feeding the homeless for decades has been arrested twice in the last week for refusing to obey a law that makes it illegal for private citizens to feed the homeless.

Reuters:

For decades, 90-year-old Arnold Abbott has hauled pans filled with roast chicken and cheese-covered potatoes onto a south Florida beach park to feed hundreds of homeless people.

For his good deeds, Abbott finds himself facing up to two months in jail and hundreds of dollars in fines after new laws that restrict public feeding of the homeless went into effect in Fort Lauderdale earlier this year.

“I’ve been fighting for the underdog all my life, so this is nothing new,” Abbott said.

He was first cited last Sunday, along with two clergymen and a volunteer from his nonprofit, Love Thy Neighbor.

On Wednesday, several police cars waited for Abbott at a downtown Fort Lauderdale park, and officers pulled aside the frail man, clad in a white chef’s coat, soon after the first plates were ready to be served.

“The ordinance does not prohibit feeding the homeless; it regulates the activity in order to ensure it is carried out in an appropriate, organized, clean and healthy manner,” Fort Lauderdale Mayor John P. Seiler said in a statement.

Abbott moved to Florida from Massachusetts in 1970 and was a civil rights activist and wholesale jewelry salesman. He and his wife first began feeding the homeless on their own in 1979. He started the foundation and feeding full time in 1991 after his wife died, in a tribute to her memory.

The dispute highlights a debate between two schools of homeless rights activists: Those who argue that banning public feeding criminalizes the homeless, and others who say feeding and panhandling helps keep them on the street.

Since January 2013, 21 cities across the country have passed laws restricting public feedings and 10 more have similar rules under consideration, according to an October report from the National Coalition to the Homeless. Nationwide, at least 57 cities have limited or banned public feeding.

"One of the reasons these kinds of ordinances are being embraced is that this is what cities can do without spending money,” said Jerry Jones, the coalition’s executive director.

A widely agreed-upon solution - giving the longtime homeless beds as they work their way into treatment programs - is too costly for many municipalities that struggle with homelessness.

In truth, we don't have a homeless problem in America as much as we have a mental health problem. Once the law was changed to allow mentally ill people out in the world rather than institutionalized as long as they were not a danger to themselves or others, the homeless population exploded.

These people are dysfunctional without their meds and even if they can get them, many refuse to take them. Instead, they self medicate on illegal drugs and alcohol, causing even more problems.

I sympathize with the city's dilemma but arresting 90 year old do gooders is not the answer. More halfway houses need to be built and staffed. More research is needed to find psychotropic drugs with fewer and less severe side effects. Mental health laws need to be examined and amended. The whole panoply of issues related to homelessness and mental health need to be addressed.

It won't be cheap. It will probably be controversial. But a commitment to deal with the problem is the first step. And Fort Lauderdale doesn't appear to want to take it.