FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Arnold Abbott handed out four plates of food to homeless people in a South Florida park. Then police stopped the 90-year-old from serving up another bite.
“An officer said, ‘Drop that plate right now — like I had a weapon,'” Abbott said.
Abbott and two pastors in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., were charged for feeding the homeless in public on Sunday, the city’s first crackdowns under a new ordinance banning public food sharing, CNN affiliate WPLG reported.
Now they face possible jail time and a $500 fine, WPLG said.
Despite some criticism from homeless advocates, city officials have vowed the new rules will be enforced.
“Just because of media attention we don’t stop enforcing the law. We enforce the laws here in Fort Lauderdale,” Mayor Jack Seiler told WPLG.
He defended the law in an interview with the Sun-Sentinel newspaper.
“I’m not satisfied with having a cycle of homeless in the city of Fort Lauderdale,” Seiler said. “Providing them with a meal and keeping them in that cycle on the street is not productive.”
But Abbott, who has been helping feed homeless people in the area through his Love Thy Neighbor nonprofit since 1991, said authorities are targeting the city’s most vulnerable residents.
“These are the poorest of the poor. They have nothing. They don’t have a roof over their head,” he said. “Who can turn them away?”
Recently, the city has also passed an ordinance limiting the storage of personal property in public, WPLG said. Then came the restrictions for food sharing.
“The city passed an ordinance requiring us to have a Porta-Potty. It’s ridiculous. The whole thing was designed to rid Fort Lauderdale of its homeless,” Abbott said. “Police told me anyone who touches a pan … anyone who is involved, will be arrested.”
It’s a battle Abbott has fought before. In 1999 he sued the city for banning him from feeding homeless people on the beach — and won, according to WPLG.
He said the threat of charges won’t stop him from doing it again.
“I’m not afraid of jail. I’m not looking to go, but if I have to, I will,” he said.
On Wednesday, Abbott said he’ll be at Fort Lauderdale Beach, ready to serve another meal.