A 90-year-old activist in the US state of Florida faces jail term of up to 60 days for violating a new law that bans serving meals to the homeless in public places.
Arnold Abbott was detained on two separate occasions this week along with two pastors from local churches in Fort Lauderdale for handing out food to the city’s homeless. He vowed to continue his charitable work, even if it means going to jail.
Abbott , who is known in his community as “Chef Arnold”, said on Thursday he would continue his practice, telling the NBC news channel in an interview: “I’m awfully hard to intimidate.”
He could be jailed for up to two months and fined $500 if he is found in breach of the law. The ordinance requires feeding sites to be more than 152 metres away from each other and 500 feet from residential properties.
Only one group distributing food to the homeless is allowed to operate on an individual city block at any one time.
Abbott, a World War II veteran and civil rights activist, told The Associated Press news agency that his charity organisation “Love Thy Neighbor” has been serving the homeless for more than two decades in honour of his late wife.
He has several programmes, including a culinary school to train the homeless and help find them jobs in local kitchens.
On Wednesday night, Abbott and others served a four-course meal by the beach as police filmed from a distance and a crowd of nearly 100 mostly homeless and volunteers cheered their arrival.
Police defend arrests
Several police officers watched and allowed Abbott’s crew to feed everyone before issuing Abbott another citation.
In the previous detainment, Abbot said that one of the police officers told him to “Drop that plate right now”, as if he were “carrying a weapon”, while feeding the poor.
Fort Lauderdale police have defended the arrests, saying they are only enforcing the law.
“We would like to emphasise that the purpose of the ordinance is not to prevent the feeding of the homeless, but to balance the needs of the entire population of the city,” police said in a statement.
City officials meanwhile, have scrambled to manage the public relations fallout from the arrests.
“We’re not a city that lacks compassion or lack kindness,” Fort Lauderdale mayor Jack Seiler said.
Homeless rights activists say the case highlights an increasing trend by local governments across the US to crack down on food distribution networks for the needy.
Advocates for the poor say the cities are fighting to control increasing homeless populations but that simply passing ordinances does notwork because they don’t address the root causes.
“Since January 2013, 21 cities have successfully restricted the practice of sharing food with people who are experiencing homelessness while at least 10 others have introduced ordinances that are pending approval,” the National Coalition for the Homeless revealed in a report.