On Monday, a Florida judge in Broward County suspended a local ordinance in Fort Lauderdale that bans public feeding of homeless people. Judge Thomas Lynch ordered law enforcement authorities to refrain from arresting those providing meals to the homeless in parks and other public places throughout the city.
Under the new Fort Lauderdale ordinance, enacted October 31, feeding sites cannot be within 500 feet of each other, and must be at least 500 feet away from residential property. The legislation also requires groups feeding homeless to provide portable toilets. Violators could face up to 60 days in jail and fines of up to US$500.
The ruling comes after Arnold Abott, a 90-year-old World War II veteran and activist, challenged the local bylaw. Police arrested Abott in early November for defying the law.
The local ordinance sparked nationwide controversy, and motivated hactivist group Anonymous to launch a coordinated action, dubbed #OpLiftTheBan, targeting Mayor Jack Seiler. “It has come to our attention that Mayor John P. Seiler has become an embarrassment to the good law-abiding citizens of Fort Lauderdale,” says the video. The group’s actions were responsible for taking several local government websites offline on Monday.
While lawsuits are currently underway to challenge the ordinance’s constitutionality, Mayor Seiler has said the city supports indoor homeless-feeding programs for safety reasons.
City attorneys have indicated they may appeal the decision, however Judge Lynch has asked that both sides enter into mediation to try and resolve the civil case. Similar laws have been passed across the country, and according to the National Homeless Coalition, 39 US cities have placed prohibitions on publicly feeding the homeless.
“What the city is doing by cutting out feeding is very simple — they are forcing homeless people to go dumpster-diving all over again,” Abbott said at the time of his arrest in November. “They will steal. That’s what the mayor is forcing the homeless to do.”