Government Law

Three people cited for violating Florida city's new restrictions on feeding homeless

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Police in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, have begun enforcing a law that places new restrictions on feeding homeless people.

At least three people were cited Sunday for violating the new ordinance, including two members of the clergy and a 90-year-old advocate for the homeless, the Sun Sentinel reports.

The new law, which took effect Friday, is one of a several recent efforts taken by officials to crack down on the city’s burgeoning homeless population. The law limits where outdoor feeding sites can be located, requires the permission of property owners and says that groups operating such sites must provide portable toilets.

As reported in the ABA Journal’s November cover story, at least 53 cities have enacted or considered similar restrictions on feeding the homeless in the past year and a half, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless. Organizations in other cities have argued that such laws violate their rights to religious and political speech, and federal district courts have sometimes struck down laws on these grounds. In 2011, however, the Atlanta-based 11th Circuit upheld Orlando’s laws as a reasonable time, place or manner restriction on political speech.

Arnold Abbott, who heads the group Love The Neighbor, was one of three people cited Sunday for willfully violating the ordinance as they set up a homeless feeding site in a city park.

Abbott, who has won previous legal battles with the city over its feeding restrictions, vowed to challenge the new restrictions in court.

“We are simply trying to feed people who are hungry,” said the Rev. Mark Sims, of St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church in Coral Springs, another of those cited Sunday for violating the ordinance. “To criminalize that is contrary to everything that I stand for as a priest and a person of faith.”

The other named person who was cited was Rev. Dwayne Black, pastor of The Sanctuary Church in Fort Lauderdale.

All three have been issued notices to appear in court, where they could be asked to explain their actions. Violations of the ordinance are punishable by up to 60 days in jail, says.

Mayor Jack Seiler defended the ordinance. He said providing the homeless with meals outside of shelters is “not productive.”

Related article:

ABA Journal: “Cities get mired in civil rights disputes in trying to deal with growing homeless populations”

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