Thursday, November 6, 2014
Who Made Feeding the Homeless a Crime in Florida?
By Anita Stewart for Challenging the Rhetoric.
Nothing is more shameful than allowing homeless people to go hungry...
Setting the Scene
Florida does it again and makes a name for itself by proving that it is one of the meanest states with regard to the local government and law enforcement’s treatment of the homeless population. The latest ordinance authorizes arrests for people who are participating in civil disobedience actions by ignoring the ordinance as they continue to feed the homeless in public spaces.
In Ft. Lauderdale, the homeless advocates were arrested in Stranahan Park, a public space this past Sunday. Arnold Abbot, a 90-year-old man was conducting a regular, weekly feeding with two local pastors assisting him. Abbot was charged and arrested for trespassing along with the other pastors.
Abbot heads a non-profit organization called, Love Thy Neighbor, in honor of his wife who died 23-years ago. His focus is on helping the large homeless population in that part of Florida. Abbot says he will continue to do what he has always done and that he will sue the city so he can continue to help the people who need it the most. He has sued the city in the past for being restricted from feeding homeless people on the beach and he won.
Not A One Time Occurrence
These incidents seem to be a repeated throughout Florida and and across the country repeatedly; other cities are using the same playbook as Florida. The National Coalition of Homelessness indicated in their newest report that 31 cities have enacted or are close to enacting ordinances that prohibit food sharing in public spaces.
Keeping food, social services, healthcare and shelter from the homeless is enforced by local entities or county and/or city Law Enforcement officials who say they are simply upholding the county or city laws and ordinances. The restauranteurs, local businesses and storefronts do not want the homeless on the streets as this will negatively affect and diminish their flow of clientele and foot traffic. Here in Florida, winter is tourist season and having homeless individuals on the streets is a blight on the neighborhoods according to business owners who say it negatively impacts their bottom line.
Why The Homeless Come To Florida And What Are The Numbers?
The accommodating weather in Florida is nice of course!
The Homeless -- like “Snowbirds” or elderly tourists, migrate down when they can because they know they won’t freeze being stuck outside. This is a serious consideration for the homeless and a matter of life and death to not be living in a harsh unforgiving winter environment. Being homeless is harsh enough in every other way.
It is next to impossible to get accurate numbers on how many homeless people are living in the state of Florida at any given time. Some put the numbers anywhere from 85K to 100K or even more. Of all the homeless, 40% are families, 60% are single adults, 8% are elderly over 62 years old, 23% are children 18 or younger. The states with the highest homeless populations are California, Texas, New York and Florida.
Resulting Direct Actions And Arrests
On Tuesday seven members of Food Not Bombs and one independent media reporter were arrested in solidarity with the arrests that were made on Sunday. This group had gone to the Downtown Development Authority offices to speak to someone about the feeding the homeless issue and the enforcement of a new ordinance put into effect on October 22nd of this year.
Soon after they arrived, the young people were told to wait outside in the hallway and someone would speak with them. They were arrested shortly afterwards and charged with trespassing and taken to the Broward County Jail. As of this writing, each person was able to bond out during the early hours Wednesday morning, except for the independent reporter.
Who is the Downtown Development Authority?
The Downtown Development Authority is a governing body that is not elected by citizens, but instead appointed by the City Commissioners. Their members have vested monetary interests and influences above and beyond just the City Commissioners and even local law enforcement. They have been in existence since the 1960‘s. One of the Board members is married to one of the law enforcement members who participated in carrying out the arrests of Abbot and the two pastors on Sunday in Stranahan Park.
It is important to note that this ordinance was reviewed by the City Commissioners in two separate open forums; one at 1AM and another at 3AM. Of course these meetings were held at times most citizens wouldn't even be aware the meetings were taking place and/or at times they could not attend. The ordinance was written up like a pork-bill in Federal legislation, tacked on with other items and masqueraded under legal terms most people would not understand.
This does not adhere and is not in accordance with Florida’s Sunshine Law.
Round 2! Direct Actions and a Hunger Strike!
A direct action and another homeless feeding is planned for this coming Friday, November 7th. The Food Not Bombs group and other organizations will join them challenging the new ordinance yet again. Those who are participating believe that they will be arrested again and are preparing for that possibility.
Nathan Pim [shown with wife Jillian above in front of the Bobby Sands mural in Derry, Ireland] is one of the organizers of the local Food Not Bombs who was one of those arrested on Tuesday. His wife Jillian has begun a hunger strike and plans to continue it until the ordinance restricting the feeding of the homeless has either been abolished or is no longer enforced. She knows what she needs to do to maintain her health and is blessed with youth, fortitude and a sense of purpose. Before she began, she researched hunger strikes and what relationship those types of direct actions have to peaceful non-violent protest and resistance.
In Ireland, hunger strikes were used to shame those that were offending. Hunger Strikes are conducted around the world in prisons, during wartime to bring about peace, to protest nuclear weapons or to rescind unreasonable and unconscionable laws and to shame leaders into creating change.
A Bit About the Ordinance (not inclusive)
Outdoor Food Distribution Center (OFDC). Shall be subject to the following:
i. If a dining area is provided, it shall meet all state, county and city requirements for food service establishments or similar uses.
ii. Shall not be closer than 500 feet from another Food Distribution Center or Outdoor Food Distribution Center.
iii. Shall not be any closer than 500 feet from a residential property as defined in Sec. 47-35 of the ULDR.
iv. Shall provide restroom facilities, portable toilets or other similar facilities for persons preparing and serving food as well as for the persons being served food.
v. Shall provide equipment and procedures for the lawful disposal of waste and wastewater at the location.
vi. Shall provide equipment and procedures at the location for hand washing.
vii. Shall provide written consent from the property owner to conduct that activity on the property.
viii. Shall have one person, who will be present at the location at all times that food is being prepared and served, who has received Food Service Manager Certification under Section 509.039, Florida Statutes.
ix. Shall have adequate storage of food at a temperature of:
a. 41 o F or below or
b. 135 o F or above.
x. Shall provide transportation of food in a clean conveyance
xi. Shall provide service of food within four (4) hours of preparation.
xii. Where non-prepackaged food is served, a convenient hand washing
facility for persons preparing and serving the food; which hand washing facility must at a minimum include:
a. A five (5) gallon container with a spigot that provides freeflowingwater and a catch bucket to collect wastewater fromhand washing.
b. Soap and individual paper towels.
xiii. Any wastewater generated at a location (including, but not limited towastewater from hand washing, utensil washing, sinks, and steam tables) must be placed in a container approved by the director until properly disposed of into a sanitary sewer system or in a manner that is consistent with federal, state, and local regulations and requirements relating to liquid waste disposal.
What Can We The People Do?
Remember your humanity. Help others. Volunteer in a Kitchen. Donate food to your local church.
Whatever moves you.
In many Florida cities -- and elsewhere, there is major class inequity. It is obvious that the gap between the rich and the poor is getting wider all of the time.
“There by the Grace of God, go I.”
Anyone of us can become homeless at any time just by a few unfortunate circumstances. Citizens who know this, understand the spiritual principles, who are witnessing the hate crimes and the subjugation of the poor in their cities are not going to accept the same status quo any longer. Protesting like many have done in the past is not providing the needed results, but militant direct actions is and many feel that it is way past time to do whatever they need to do to re-create the current system into something new and make it transformative.
We all have to be the change.