Every Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. for the past 23 years, 90–year-old Arnold Abbott has been feeding the homeless at a public beach in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
On October 21, the City of Fort Lauderdale Commission passed an ordinance that banned public food sharing — something that went into effect last week. Under the ordinance, organizations distributing food outdoors would have to provide portable toilets for use by workers and those being fed.
“We hope he feeds. He has a very valuable role in the community,” said Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler. “All we’re saying is he can feed the next block over. He can feed at the church. We want them to be in safe secure settings. We wanted them to be in a sanitary matter. We them to have facilities available before and after.”
On November 2, just days after the ordinance took effect, Abbott had handed out his third meal of the day when he was approached by police officers. He was cited for breaking the ordinance and given a notice that he must appear in court.
“One of the police officers said, ‘Drop that plate right now,’ as if I were carrying a weapon,” Abbott told ABC affiliate WPLG.
Abbott continued his tradition of feeding the homeless on a public beach Wednesday night when he was approached by officers again and his food operation was shut down.
But he plans on being back at the public beach, as usual, next Wednesday.
“I don’t plan to give up the beach,” he said.
The Fort Lauderdale Police told ABC News that Abbott will get his court subpoena in the mail and a judge will decide whether he will spend up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.
“Arnold thinks he can feed wherever he wants and the laws say differently. Despite the fact that he’s a super nice guy and he’s a gentleman and a kind soul we have to enforce the law,” Seiler said.
Although Abbott has been cited twice in less than a week, he has no plans to stop feeding the homeless, telling ABC News over the phone from his non-profit organization, Love Thy Neighbor, that the only alternative he has is to go to court.
Abbott sued the City of Fort Lauderdale in 1999 after they tried to stop him from feeding the homeless on a public beach. Abbott won the case three times in circuit court and twice in the court of appeals.
He was invited by a local church to feed the homeless in their parking lot this coming Sunday where he expects to feed up to 200 people. Abbott doesn’t believe he will receive any citations during this feed because he will be on private property.