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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Despite being charged with violating a new law by feeding the homeless in South Florida, 90-year-old Arnold Abbott said he's not deterred and even went back out to serve more food at a public park.

The faceoff in Fort Lauderdale over the ordinance restricting public feeding of the homeless has pitted those with compassionate aims against residents and businesses trying to protect their neighborhoods.

Abbott, affectionately known as "Chef Arnold," and two South Florida ministers were charged last weekend as they handed out food. They were accused of breaking the ordinance and 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 said.

But 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.

"God bless you, Arnold!" some shouted. Others carried signs in support of Abbott.

Abbott, a World War II veteran and civil rights activist, told The Associated Press that he has been serving the homeless for more than two decades in honor of his late wife. He has several programs, including a culinary school to train the homeless and help find them jobs in local kitchens.

With tears in her eyes, Rosemarie Servoky broke through the crowd Wednesday night to hug Abbott. Servoky, 68 and a graduate of Arnold's culinary program, said he saved her life.

"I was a crack addict. I was in a homeless shelter," said Servoky, who contacted the mayor to complain about the new law.

Several police officers watched and allowed Abbott's crew to feed everyone before issuing Abbott another citation. Black, who was also handing out food, said he was not given one.

"The officer who wrote the citation said, 'We'll always let you feed here, but you'll get a citation no matter what,'" said the pastor. He said that may signal an opening for dialogue with the city.

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

Robert Otto, a homeless Fort Lauderdale man, told CBS News Station WFOR that the new ordinance is forcing him out of town.

"I'm leaving man. I ain't taking this no more man," he told CBS4's Ted Scouten. "They treat you like you was a dog or something, stray dog. "

Otto said he got himself a ticket to Los Angeles to escape this new rule.

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 south, especially to Florida.

Mayor Jack Seiler said he thinks Abbott and pastors Dwayne Black and Mark Sims have good intentions, but the city can't discriminate in enforcing the law. He said it was passed to ensure that public places are open to everyone. He also stressed that the city was working with local charities to help serve the homeless through indoor feedings and programs that get them medical care and long-term help.

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

Black criticized the city for pushing the proposed ordinance to the back of the agenda last week. Many supporters left by the time it came up for discussion, long after midnight. Black said he knew there was a good chance he would be arrested Wednesday night, but he wanted to be there to "reopen the discussion on this ordinance."

Police said the men were not taken into custody and were given notices to appear in court, where the matter will be decided by a judge.

Abbott fought a similar ordinance in court 15 years ago and said he's prepared to mount another legal challenge.

Fort Lauderdale's ordinance took effect Friday, and the city passed a slew of 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've never seen a city pass so many laws in such a short period of time," said Stoops, who testified at a City Council hearing on the issue.

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.

They've drawn national attention, with some focusing on the contrast between the vacation destination of the Orlando area and the poverty in its surrounding cities.

"There's a battle going on between the interest of economic development and tourism verses the needs of homeless individuals and the groups that serve them," Stoops said.

A 90-year-old man and two South Florida ministers have been accused of breaking a new ordinance that severely restricts public feeding of the homeless in Fort Lauderdale.Police arrested homeless advocate Arnold Abbot and ministers Dwayne Black and Mark Sims on Sunday as they handed out food to homeless people in a Fort Lauderdale park. The city ordinance took effect Friday.

"One of the police officers said, 'Drop that plate right now,' as if I were carrying a weapon," Abbott told South Florida television station WPLG. "It's man's inhumanity to man is all it is."

All three face up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.

Abbott runs a nonprofit group called Love Thy Neighbor, Inc. He said he sued the city in 1999 after they tried to stop him from feeding the homeless on Fort Lauderdale Beach. He won that case and now says he'll fight the new ordinance.

"I'm going to have to go back to court again and sue the city of Fort Lauderdale - a beautiful city," Abbott said. "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?"

He planned to feed the homeless Wednesday evening on Fort Lauderdale Beach.

"I don't do things to purposefully aggravate the situation," he said. "I'm trying to work with the city. Any human has the right to help his fellow man."

Black pastors The Sanctuary Church in Fort Lauderdale. Sims is pastor of St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church in Coral Springs.

CBS station WFOR-TV reports that the city has been searching for a solution to its homeless problem for several years.  Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler Told WFOR in 2012 that the city has been trying to clean up Stranahan Park, which has become a haven for dozens of homeless men and women during the day. The park is adjacent to the county's main library.

"Families don't feel safe, people going to the library don't feel safe, people wanting to use public resources don't feel safe," Seiler told the station. "It's gone too far."

The city believes the sight of the homeless is affecting tourism, nearby businesses and tarnishing the city's image, the station reported.


Homeless advocate Arnold Abbott, 90, of the nonprofit group Love Thy Neighbor Inc., center, gets his drivers license to hand to a Fort Lauderdale police officer, Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2014, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Abbott and a group of volunteers were feeding the homeless in a public parking lot next to the beach when he was issued a summons to appear in court for violating an ordinance that limits where charitable groups can feed the homeless on public property. Abbott w also recently arrested along with two pastors for feeding the homeless in a Fort Lauderdale park.

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 last weekend 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 Wednesday 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 Friday, 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.

For decades, 90-year-old Arnold Abbott has hauled pans filled with roast chicken and cheese-covered potatoes onto a south Florida beach park to feed hundreds of homeless people.

For his good deeds, Abbott finds himself facing up to two months in jail and hundreds of dollars in fines after new laws that restrict public feeding of the homeless went into effect in Fort Lauderdale earlier this year.

“I’ve been fighting for the underdog all my life, so this is nothing new,” Abbott said.

He was first cited last Sunday, along with two clergymen and a volunteer from his non-profit, Love Thy Neighbor.

On Wednesday, several police cars waited for Abbott at a downtown Fort Lauderdale park, and officers pulled aside the frail man, clad in a white chef’s coat, soon after the first plates were ready to be served.

“The ordinance does not prohibit feeding the homeless; it regulates the activity in order to ensure it is carried out in an appropriate, organised, clean and healthy manner,” Fort Lauderdale Mayor John P Seiler said in a statement.

Abbott moved to Florida from Massachusetts in 1970 and was a civil rights activist and wholesale jewellery salesman.

He and his wife first began feeding the homeless on their own in 1979.

He started the foundation and feeding full time in 1991 after his wife died, in a tribute to her memory.

The dispute highlights a debate between two schools of homeless rights activists: Those who argue that banning public feeding criminalises the homeless, and others who say feeding and panhandling helps keep them on the street.

Since January 2013, 21 cities across the country have passed laws restricting public feedings and 10 more have similar rules under consideration, according to an October report from the National Coalition to the Homeless.

Nationwide, at least 57 cities have limited or banned public feeding.

"One of the reasons these kinds of ordinances are being embraced is that this is what cities can do without spending money,” said Jerry Jones, the coalition’s executive director.

A widely agreed-upon solution - giving the long-time homeless beds as they work their way into treatment programmes - is too costly for many municipalities that struggle with homelessness.

But advocates for the homeless say that ignores the costs of not addressing the issue in a compassionate way.

“What’s the cost if somebody presents themselves five times annually to an emergency room?” asked Ron Book, a high-profile Florida lobbyist who chairs Miami-Dade County’s Homeless Trust with a tax-backed, $55 million budget.



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