Priests Facing Jail Time for Feeding the Homeless in Florida

PriestsA 90-year-old man, Arnold Abbott, was given a citation for feeding the homeless on the streets of Fort Lauderdale, Florida on Sunday. He, along with two priests, were shut down while feeding the homeless and now face jail time and a $500 fine, in accordance with Florida’s new laws. According to a newly passed ordinance, the new city ordinance prohibits the distribution of food to the homeless in public. The guidelines have a number of stipulations, which Abbott’s group has been trying to follow. The requirement of a porta potty on site for any public donations of food, is the one thing that they cannot comply with.

Florida is the 13th city to pass these guidelines since 2012. Abbott and the local priests believes this is a heartless act and they worry about the area’s nearly 10,000 homeless. Nevertheless, they plan on continuing their mission, even though they know they will be arrested again. Abbott’s plans already include providing food on a public beach later this week.

The National Coalition for the Homeless has passed these restrictions on the public feeding of the homeless. The act states that public distribution of food to the homeless, when done outside, requires a permit, and it is not to be done near any residential areas. In addition, the distribution of food must be at least 500 feet from those residences. Abbott, the two local priests and their charity, Love Thy Neighbor, have been battling the city for quite some time on these ordinances, and although they try to comply with the ever-changing rules, the requirement of bathroom facilities on site was just too much.

Fort Lauderdale officials defend this law, stating that it simply makes those distributing food to the homeless responsible for the safe and clean dispensing of free food. The laws also govern any indoor facilities that might wish to cater to the homeless. These staunch supporters that give of themselves and helping those that have fallen on hard times will have to appear in court if they wish to continue.

Many people support these laws and some have extreme views of the homeless, which differ greatly from Abbott and the priests. A man who used to be a journalist, Cal Deal, is one of those supporters. His view is that the lawless bunch of people who come out for free food are being enabled. He believes that they are less likely to seek long-term help when they are being fed, and that if they were hungry they would be more motivated to seek a means to end their homelessness. These sentiments are echoed by the Miami Dade Homeless Trust who states that what these men are doing is enabling these people to remain homeless.

Many believe that reaching out to help is the right thing to do, and the priests involved believe it is their duty to give a helping hand to those in need, and if they are hungry they feel it is their duty to feed them. That is exactly what Abbott’s Love Thy Neighbor charity aims to continue to do, along with the help of the local clergy.

by Kristi Cereska

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