Volunteers arrested

Elderly man and two pastors face jail time and fines in Florida

By Anthony Plescia
Staff Writer

On Sunday, Nov. 2, 90-year-old Arnold Abbott of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and two church pastors were arrested for feeding homeless people in public. They violated an ordinance, which prohibits public food sharing, that took effect only two days prior. In 1991, Abbott created the nonprofit group Love Thy Neighbor, which he used to feed the homeless over the years.

Dwayne Black, pastor of the Sanctuary Church in Fort Lauderdale, said in a Nov. 5 interview with NBC News, “This is not how our government is supposed to work. These are people who need to be fed, and we will be feeding again today at 5 o’clock.”

Black also added the threat of police intervention would not deter Abbott and him from handing out meals that evening. The Fort Lauderdale Police stated they knew Abbott and Black planned to hand out meals in public, but Abbott believes that the ordinance is targeting Fort Lauderdale’s most vulnerable residents.

In a Nov. 5 interview with CNN and Local10 News, Abbott said, “These are the poorest of the poor. They have nothing. They don’t have a roof over their head. Who can turn them away?” Abbott also told Local10 he intends to file suit against the city, which will not be the first time he takes such action. In 1999, Abbott won a lawsuit against Fort Lauderdale for barring him from doing the same activity at a beach.

Even though the current ordinance is getting criticism from homeless advocates, Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler vowed that the city must enforce the law. Thirty cities across the country have also either passed similar ordinances or are considering doing so.

When asked what he legal action he would take in Mr. Abbott’s position, Mason Mills, a Schoolcraft student from Canton, Michigan said, “I would petition to the nearest local judicial court to attempt to change the law on the feeding of homeless people. I’m sure I would have many followers to petition along with me, so they would be welcome to join.”

Every state has its share of homeless people who struggle to feed themselves and their families. Although metro Detroit and surrounding areas have a relatively high rate of food-insecure residents, there are not any Fort Lauderdale-like ordinances related to homelessness in the immediate vicinity of Livonia.

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