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A 90-year-old man and two pastors were arrested by Fort Lauderdale police on Sunday for feeding homeless people in public.
90-year-old Arnold Abbott runs a nonprofit group called Love Thy Neighbor and had prepared around 300 lunches to give away outside Fort Lauderdale's Stranahan Park. However, Abbott and the two pastors were only able to serve three of those meals before being ordered to stop and subsequently arrested by police, reports The Washington Post.
Is feeding homeless people illegal?
The men were arrested under an ordinance passed last month by Fort Lauderdale commissioners restricting charitable groups' ability to feed the homeless. The ordinance took effect on Friday, making Abbott and the members of his organization the first to be charged with violating the new rules.
Under the city's ordinance, outdoor food stations such as the one being run by Abbott, cannot be within 500 feet of residences, reports the Sun-Sentinel. Those organizing the station must obtain a permit from the city or get permission from property owners as well provide a portable bathroom. Abbott and the two pastors face a $500 fine and up to 60 days in jail for violating the ordinance.
The new rules are just the latest in a series of ordinances passed in Fort Lauderdale targeting the city's homeless population. In 2012, the city instituted a program providing one-way bus tickets out of town to homeless individuals dubbed the "Homeless Reunification Program."
More recently, the city has passed an ordinance prohibiting camping in public and another that allows authorities to seize a homeless person's personal property and store it until that person agrees to pay a fee. In a letter posted on the city's website, Fort Lauderdale Mayor John P. Seiler notes that the city has also worked to helped the homeless, including the establishment of a dedicated Homeless Assistance Unit in the Fort Lauderdale police department and partnerships with homeless support organizations.
Regarding the new ordinance, Seiler writes that "As a City, we have a responsibility to ensure that all of our public spaces are accessible and can be safely enjoyed by everyone - families, children, residents, and visitors."
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