- Nearly 100 people gathered in Downtown Fort Lauderdale Saturday to take a stand against a city ordinance setting restrictions for organizations wanting to feed the homeless outdoors.
The march, which started outside the federal courthouse, aims to change the homeless feeding rules in Fort Lauderdale, and for many participants, the demonstration has a personal meaning. "This goes much deeper than food, much, much deeper," said a homeless man as he addressed a crowd. "It's about a place to lay my head."
The ordinance, which the city passed Oct. 22, requires organizations to bring restrooms and a permit if they want to feed the homeless outside. Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler said the city code is in place to ensure food safety. "We just think there's a way to go about it in a safe, sanitary, secure way. There's a way to go about it with bathrooms and restrooms," he said.
Saturday's event, called the Rally for the Homeless: End Criminalization Now, ended at Stranahan Park where musical acts performed, guest speakers addressed the crowd and participants handed out free food. Emotions ran high, even bringing a man to tears. "It's to their benefit, to tend to the poor," he said as he fought back tears.
Many of the demonstrators, however, also came to hear a word from 90-year-old Arnold Abbott, who took the stage to address the crowd amid chants of "Arnold! Arnold!" The activist has led the cause against the city's ordinance and has been feeding the homeless for 23 years.
Abbott has even sued the city before and won. He is now taking on City Hall again. "I don't think any judge in this world would uphold the laws they're trying to put together," he told 7News.
Abbott has been cited at least three times for violating the new city ordinance, which he calls "a government overreach," and said he's certain it will be overturned. "We'll get through that; we'll get way beyond that," he said. "I hope things are back to normal. They have to build more shelters; the shelters are pathetic."