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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Florida’s new policy against feeding the homeless could set a dangerous precedent

If you thought something as innocuous and charitable as helping to feed the less privileged couldn’t land you in jail, think again. Florida, a state becoming as famous for its unbelievably flawed laws as it is for its pristine beaches, has come out with another gem of a policy. It is currently illegal in Fort Lauderdale to provide food to the homeless in public sections of the region.

According to CNN, Arnold Abbott, a 90-year-old WWII veteran and pastor and founder of charity organization Love Thy Neighbor, and a group of volunteers are currently facing up to 60 days in prison as well as a $500 fine for being charitable people and feeding the homeless.
Abbott, who’s been doing his bit to help feed the homeless in the city through his non-profit since 1991, claims the police asked him to stop handing out food to the homeless in a South Florida park. According to Abbott the officer asked him to drop the plate “like I had a weapon.”

The officers then proceeded to dump the plates of hot food intended for the homeless into the trash, with a total of six uniformed cops and four police cruisers showing at the scene to enforce the ordinance.
Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler claims the ordinance is in place to protect the neighborhoods and stem the cycle of homelessness on the street. According to city officials the ordinance is there to guarantee that public places are open to everyone (except the homeless, of course). Seiler also stated that the city was working with charities in the area to aid serving the homeless through a mix of indoor feedings and programs designed to get them medical care and long term help.
As noble as the city’s intentions may be, stopping folks like Abbott from endeavoring to aid in the plight of the homeless does little but exacerbate the problem.  Yet many more cities are likely to follow Fort Lauderdale in enacting similar laws. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, 30 cities have tried enacting similar laws in the past two years, and the trend shows no signs of bucking. A report by the same organization revealed that since 2010 there has been a 47 percent increase in laws aimed at restricting food sharing.

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, there are 600,000 people experiencing homelessness on any given night in the U.S. Of that number, 49,933 are veterans.

That’s a staggering number — and creating laws which will only serve to make life even harder on these underprivileged individuals, like the ordinance in question which prevents feeding them, will do little to abate the issue. According to the NAEH, investments at every level of government in programs tasked with the “development of permanent supportive housing, a proven solution to ending homelessness for people with disabilities” is highly effective, as evidenced by the fact that the amount of veteran homeless are reducing (gradually).

It could be better though. According to the report, federal programs like Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program (HPRP) have been severely depleted and either inadeqately replaced, or not replaced at all. In its stead are laws which lead to the arrests of 90-year-old veterans trying to do some good for society.

While the intentions of cities enacting these kinds of policies might be coming from a good place, they are ultimately setting an extremely dangerous precedent. Preventing individuals from feeding the homeless is simply adding to the problem. Let’s get our priorities in order.