Drop That Plate Right Now: Cops Arrest 90-Year-Old Advocate and Clergy For Crime of Feeding the Hungry
by Abby Zimet
from common dreams
Bound by faith and virtue to resist newly passed "homeless hate laws" in Fort Lauderdale, a 90-year-old homeless advocate and two ministers were arrested by a phalanx of burly cops for resolutely continuing to share food with homeless people in public, part of a "week of resistance" to a growing body of laws there and in at least 20 other cities that criminalize poor people by restricting their panhandling, camping, storing belongings, going to the bathroom and other activities deemed "life sustaining" to the homeless - that is, essentially, for existing. The ordinance against food-sharing, which went into effect Friday, sparked a call for a week-long series of actions and protests by churches and advocacy groups; among them, Food Not Bombs vowed to mark the law's passage on its first day, Halloween, by holding their usual weekly food share and greeting the city "with our middle fingers fully extended."
Longtime homeless advocate Arnold Abbott, head of the non-profit Love Thy Neighbor, was likewise continuing to feed a line of hungry people on a sidewalk Sunday with a crew of helpers when he was arrested, along with pastors Dwayne Blackand and Mark Sims. Abbott, who has been feeding the hungry and homeless for over 20 years, successfully sued the city in 1999 to continue doing so. He and the others face up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. "These are the poorest of the poor, they have nothing - how do you turn them away?" he said after his arrest. "It's man's inhumanity to man is all it is." The angry hungry crowd, evidently in agreement, shouted "Shame!" and "The world is watching" as police hauled him away. Today, several more activists were arrested when they tried to talk with city officials. Abbott, meanwhile, says he plans to bring food to the beach Wednesday evening, as usual, to feed those who need it.
see our post of oct 23 2014
US Cities Criminalizing
Sharing Food with Homeless
"God bless you, Arnold!" some shouted. Others carried signs in support of Abbott.
Abbott, a World War II veteran and civil rights activist, told The Associated Press that he has been serving the homeless for more than two decades in honor of his late wife. He has several programs, including a culinary school to train the homeless and help find them jobs in local kitchens.
With tears in her eyes, Rosemarie Servoky broke through the crowd Wednesday night to hug Abbott. Servoky, 68 and a graduate of Arnold's culinary program, said he saved her life.
"I was a crack addict. I was in a homeless shelter," said Servoky, who contacted the mayor to complain about the new law.
Several police officers watched and allowed Abbott's crew to feed everyone before issuing Abbott another citation. Black, who was also handing out food, said he was not given one.
"The officer who wrote the citation said, 'We'll always let you feed here, but you'll get a citation no matter what,'" said the pastor. He said that may signal an opening for dialogue with the city.
Fort Lauderdale is the latest U.S. city to pass restrictions on feeding homeless people in public places. Advocates for the homeless say the cities are fighting to control increasing homeless populations but that simply passing ordinances doesn't work because they don't address the root causes.
In the past two years, more than 30 cities have tried to introduce laws similar to Fort Lauderdale's, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless. The efforts come as more veterans face homelessness and after two harsh winters drove homeless people south, especially to Florida.
Mayor Jack Seiler said he thinks Abbott and pastors Dwayne Black and Mark Sims have good intentions, but the city can't discriminate in enforcing the law. He said it was passed to ensure that public places are open to everyone. He also stressed that the city was working with local charities to help serve the homeless through indoor feedings and programs that get them medical care and long-term help.
"The parks have just been overrun and were inaccessible to locals and businesses," Seiler said.
Black criticized the city for pushing the proposed ordinance to the back of the agenda last week. Many supporters left by the time it came up for discussion, long after midnight. Black said he knew there was a good chance he would be arrested Wednesday night, but he wanted to be there to "reopen the discussion on this ordinance."
Police said the men were not taken into custody and were given notices to appear in court, where the matter will be decided by a judge.
Abbott fought a similar ordinance in court 15 years ago and said he's prepared to mount another legal challenge.
Fort Lauderdale's ordinance took effect Friday, and the city passed a slew of laws addressing homelessness in recent months. They ban people from leaving their belongings unattended, outlaw panhandling at medians and strengthen defecation and urination laws, according to Michael Stoops, director of community organizing for the National Coalition for the Homeless.
"I've never seen a city pass so many laws in such a short period of time," said Stoops, who testified at a City Council hearing on the issue.
Other cities are conducting routine homeless sweeps while some have launched anti-panhandling campaigns, according to the coalition. And many laws continue to target public feedings.
In Houston, groups need written consent to feed the homeless in public, or they face a $2,000 fine. Organizations in Columbia, South Carolina, must pay $150 for a permit more than two weeks in advance to feed the homeless in city parks.
In Orlando, an ordinance requires groups to get a permit to feed 25 or more people in parks in a downtown district. Groups are limited to two permits per year for each park. Since then, numerous activists have been arrested for violating the law.
They've drawn national attention, with some focusing on the contrast between the vacation destination of the Orlando area and the poverty in its surrounding cities.
"There's a battle going on between the interest of economic development and tourism verses the needs of homeless individuals and the groups that serve them," Stoops said.
In January, Volusia County (home of Daytona Beach) contracted with Robert Marbut, a national homeless consultant, to assess that city’s problems and suggest solutions – as he’s done in some 60 other towns, including St. Petersburg, Fla., Fresno, Calif., and Fort Smith, Ark. He bills each community about $5,900 for his analysis and ideas, he said.
Marbut advised the Volusia County Council that centralized, 24/7 programs that treat the three root causes of homelessness – a lack of jobs, mental illnesses and chronic substance abuse – have been shown to reduce local homeless populations by 80 percent.
But Marbut does not favor any ordinances that criminalize helping the homelesses, he said. (Daytona Beach passed its anti-feeding law before the Jimenezes were fined).
“I prefer changing a community’s culture through a dialogue,” said Marbut, who is based in San Antonio, Texas. “You’re never going to get anywhere arresting priests, pastors and imams in the street.”
But he also cringes at the notion of lone ministries independently launching food-sharing programs without coordinating with other churches or with local charity agencies, he said.
“Give me a name of one person who got a job because they were fed. Feeding alone, or giving out clothing or camping equipment, does not address the core issues of being homeless,” Marbut said. “You don’t graduate from the street because you ate a Big Mac tonight.”
Some areas are attempting to combine both approaches to get the best part of both worlds; sensible regulation and independent public service:
In the Bay Area city of Hayward, Calif., officials enacted a homeless-feeding ordinance in February that carries some of those gentle nuances – a nod that this is hardly a black-and-white problem.
People or groups seeking to feed the homeless in Hayward first must obtain a health department permit to show their fare is safely prepared and served. After that, they can apply for a food-sharing permit. But those individuals still are restricted as to the number of times in a week or a month that they can provide free food at the same location on a public property.
The proper government response is needed, not blanket bans on private actions. Once again, smart government, not small government, is the key to success here. A recent study showed that some cities could save over $350 million if they housed homeless and offered other services to help get them off the street. Private groups can’t manage free-housing without some sort of subsidization from the government, and it’s easier to cut out the middle man and let cities manage the housing themselves with federal, state, and local money. At the same time, muscling out private groups and individuals who want to help isn’t solving the problem — it’s costing the municipality that much more in paper work for tickets that will likely be dismissed.