A 90-year-old man is facing up to 60 days in jail for feeding the needy due to a new law that bans people in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, from meal-sharing with the public.Arnold Abbott risks being fined $500 and spending time in prison after police officers apprehended him while he was handing out meals to homeless people in a park on Sunday.
He was arrested and charged along with two ministers from the Sanctuary Church, which prepares hundreds of meals to dish out every week in their kitchen, while shocked onlookers shouted to officers “shame on you!” in a video published by NY Daily News.
Mr Abbott said: “One of police officers came over and said ‘Drop that plate right now,’ as if I was carrying a weapon.”
He added: “These are the poorest of the poor, they have nothing, they don’t have a roof over their heads. How do you turn them away?”
In 1999, Mr Abbott sued the City of Fort Lauderdale after he was banned from feeding the homeless on the beach and the court found that the rule was against the Constitution. The new law – which has come into effect or is planned to in Seattle, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Dallas, and Philadelphia – was passed last week.
Ron Book, a city lobbyist, told the US newspaper Sun Sentinel: “Whatever discourages feeding people on the streets is a positive thing.”
Mr Abbott, who describes himself as his “brother’s keeper” who believes “love thy neighbor as thyself”, is planning to sue the city again and intends to continue his good-hearted deeds.
The new regulations require groups to be at least 500 feet away from residential properties and food sites are restricted to one per city block, but charities have criticized the rules as forms of implementing social cleansing.
Michael Stoops, community organiser at the National Coalition for the Homeless, told NBC News: “Economic development and tourism don’t mesh well with homeless folks and the agencies that serve them.”
Mr Abbott set up Love Thy Neighbour in memory of his late wife Maureen in order to continue the humanitarian work they both did by regularly making and sharing food at Holiday Park and Fort Lauderdale Beach.