Tag Archives: Fort Lauderdale

Feeding the homeless: Act of charity or a crime?

To Arnold Abbott, feeding the homeless in a public park in South Florida was an act of charity. To the city of Fort Lauderdale, the 90-year-old man in white chef’s apron serving up gourmet-styled meals was committing a crime.

For more than two decades, the man many call “Chef Arnold” has proudly fired up his ovens to serve up four-course meals for the downtrodden who wander the palm tree-lined beaches and parks of this sunny tourist destination.

Now a face-off over a new ordinance restricting public feedings of the homeless has pitted Abbott and others with compassionate aims against some officials, residents and businesses who say the growing homeless population has overrun local parks and that public spaces merit greater oversight.

Abbott and two South Florida ministers were arrested this fall as they served up food. They were charged with breaking an ordinance restricting public feeding of the homeless. Each faces up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.

“One of the police officers said, `Drop that plate right now,’ as if I were carrying a weapon,” Abbott recalled.

The arrests haven’t deterred Abbott, and pastors Dwayne Black and Mark Sims.

In fact, on a recent evening, Abbott and Black went back out for a feeding along Fort Lauderdale beach as police videotaped them serving up fresh-cooked entrees: a chicken-and-vegetable dish with broccoli sauce and a cubed ham-and-pasta dish Abbott said he topped with a “beautiful white onion celery sauce.”

Nearly 100 mostly homeless people and volunteers cheered his arrival in the park.

“God bless you, Arnold!” some in the crowd shouted.

 “Thank God for Chef Arnold. I haven’t eaten all day. He feeds a lot of people from the heart,” said 56-year-old Eddie Hidalgo, who described himself as living on the streets since losing his job two years ago.

At one point, an Associated Press staffer said she watched as Abbott was called over beside a police car by officers where an officer wrote up something and handed Abbott a copy as he stood by.

Police spokeswoman DeAnna Greenlaw late told The Associated Press by email that Abbott was issued a citation on a charge of breaking the ordinance. She said no one else was cited and police had no further comment.

“I’m grateful that they allowed us to feed the people before they gave us the citation,” Abbott said afterward. He has said feeding the homeless is his life’s mission.

Fort Lauderdale is the latest U.S. city to pass restrictions on feeding homeless people in public places. Advocates for the homeless say that the cities are fighting to control increasing homeless populations but that simply passing ordinances doesn’t work.

In the past two years, more than 30 cities have tried to introduce laws similar to Fort Lauderdale’s, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless. The efforts come as more veterans face homelessness and after two harsh winters drove homeless people southward, especially to Florida.

Mayor Jack Seiler said he thinks Abbott and the two pastors have good intentions, but that the city can’t discriminate in enforcing the ordinance. He said it was passed recently to ensure that public places are open to everyone and stressed that the city was working with local charities to help with the root causes of homelessness.

“The parks have just been overrun and were inaccessible to locals and businesses,” Seiler said.  

Black, a local pastor, noted that the ordinance passed after a long meeting after midnight, when many people had gone home. But he said he’s willing to stand up to the measure, even at the risk of arrest.

Fort Lauderdale’s ordinance took effect this fall, and the city passed a slew of other laws addressing homelessness in recent months. They ban people from leaving their belongings unattended, outlaw panhandling at medians, and strengthen defecation and urination laws, according to Michael Stoops, director of community organizing for the National Coalition for the Homeless.

“I think cities have grown tired of the homeless situation, and businesses and residents complain about the homeless population,” Stoops said, citing the conflict between business needs and the needs of the homeless.

Fort Lauderdale police have said that the men were not taken into custody last weekend and that they were given notices to appear in court from that encounter, adding the matter will ultimately be decided by a judge. The police spokeswoman Greenlaw said those charged “were well aware of the changes to the ordinance and its effective date.”

Other cities are conducting routine homeless sweeps while some have launched anti-panhandling campaigns, according to the coalition. And many laws continue to target public feedings.

In Houston, groups need written consent to feed the homeless in public, or they face a $2,000 fine. Organizations in Columbia, South Carolina, must pay $150 for a permit more than two weeks in advance to feed the homeless in city parks.

In Orlando, an ordinance requires groups to get a permit to feed 25 or more people in parks in a downtown district. Groups are limited to two permits per year for each park. Since then, numerous activists have been arrested for violating the law. The arrests have drawn national attention, with some focusing on the contrast between the vacation destination of the Orlando area and the poverty in some surrounding areas.

NFL player Brendon Ayanbadejo urges athletes to support marriage equality

Former Baltimore Ravens reserve linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo called on professional athletes on April 23 to stand up for marriage equality because he said it is “the right thing to do.”

Ayanbadejo took his support for gay marriage to South Florida, where his career started with Miami in 2003 and where he has lived for the past decade.

“We are calling on everybody across all spectrums of sports,” he told a news conference in Fort Lauderdale, where he was joined by representatives of the civil rights organization Equality Florida. One of the group’s goals is a longshot effort to legalize same-sex marriage in the state.

“I think the star power, especially with athletes, allows us to hit a demographic. … I think this allows us to have our voice reach a little bit deeper to people who wouldn’t normally hear our message.”

The 36-year-old Ayanbadejo said he had a “bigger calling than football” and this was it.

“I have a chance now to help so many more people than I did while in football.”

An open proponent of gay marriage, Ayanbadejo spoke in favor of it in November, before Maryland passed a law allowing it, and also prior to the Super Bowl. He also recently spoke at a rally on the steps of the Supreme Court.

He was cut from the Ravens earlier this month and initially suggested the roster move stemmed from his controversial stance. He has since backed off that position and said the team has supported him since he began talking about equality in 2009.

“They said go ahead and use your platform,” he said. “And not only did that make the Ravens look good and also we won the Super Bowl, but also it’s a good example for other teams in the NFL as well.”

The chances of same-sex marriage being legalized in Florida are slim. In 2008, 62 percent of voters approved a state constitutional amendment banning it and civil unions. To overturn that amendment, the Republican-dominated Legislature would have to put a measure on the ballot or the group would have to collect valid signatures from more than 680,000 voters. The measure would then have to be approved by more than 60 percent of the voters.

Earlier this month, Ayanbadejo told The Baltimore Sun that up to four NFL players may soon come out as gay. He told The Associated Press this week that a group of athletes were in touch with equality organizations and “we are just trying to facilitate them so they can have a support group amongst each other.”

Ayanbadejo, who said he is not gay, said he is a product of biracial parents who would not have been able to marry in the 1960s in several states.

“It’s personal, but I equate it to equal rights, and a lot of people can’t see it that way,” he said of gay marriage.

Advocate names 2012 gayest U.S. cities

The Advocate magazine has released a list of its gayest cities for 2012, choosing to bypass the traditional gothams and resorts.

The list includes Salt Lake City, No. 1; Orlando, Fla., No. 2; Cambridge, Mass., No. 3; Fort Lauderdale, Fla., No. 4; Seattle, No. 5; Ann Arbor, Mich., No. 6; St. Paul/Minneapolis, No. 7; Knoxville, Tenn., No. 8; Atlanta, No. 9; Grand Rapids, Mich., No. 10; Little Rock, Ark., No. 11; Portland, Ore., No. 12; Austin, Texas, No. 13; Long Beach, Calif.; No. 14 and Denver, No. 15.

The magazine also offered a list of honorable mentions:

No. 16, Washington, D.C.;
No. 17, New Orleans; No.
18, San Francisco;  No. 19, Pittsburgh; No.
20, Salem, Ore., No. 21, Madison, Wis.; No. 22, Eugene, Ore.; No.
23, Oakland, Calif.; No.
24, Boston
and No. 25. Kansas City, Mo.

Two gay cruise companies book world’s largest vessel

A second major gay and lesbian vacation organizer has announced plans to book a group on Royal Caribbean’s celebrated five-month-old Allure of the Seas. It’s one of the world’s two largest cruise ships.

Houston-based Concierge Travel, company says it will book a block of rooms on the 5,400-passenger vessel from Jan. 3 – 8, 2012. The ship will sail from Fort Lauderdale to the Caribbean for five-nights.

Concierge’s trip is scheduled just two weeks before Atlantis Events, Inc., another gay travel company, charters the entire vessel for a seven-night cruise beginning in Fort Lauderdale and featuring stops in St. Thomas and St. Maarten. Atlantis organized a similar cruise in February aboard the 225,282-ton vessel. That cruise holds the record as the largest gay and lesbian event ever at sea.

Concierge Travel says its event will be a family-friendly outing that includes group dinners, shows, cocktail parties and exclusive entertainment. Fares start at $1,022 per person, based on double occupancy, including taxes and port fees.

Allure of the Seas stands 16 decks high, is nearly 1,200 feet long and offers such features as an open-air “central park” with live trees and a family-friendly amusement area called Boardwalk.