90yo US WWII vet vows to defy arrest for feeding homeless

Arnold Abbot being arrested on November 2. Video still. Courtesy Browards Palm Beach New Times
A 90-year-old war veteran says he will continue breaking the law by feeding homeless in public places in the city of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He was arrested earlier for defying a city ordinance that restricts such charity to protect local businesses.

Arnold Abbot has been feeding homeless people in the streets of Fort Lauderdale for some 23 years, and says he will not stop, despite the city council making it a citable offence, carrying a punishment of 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.

“I am not afraid at all. I was a combat infantryman for 2 1/2 years. I’ve spent 50 years fighting for civil rights for the minorities in this country. I don’t have the slightest fear of being arrested,” he told RT. “The only thing I am concerned about is that there would be nobody to feed the homeless outdoors, which is what I do – and what I intend to do as long as there is breath in my body.”

Arnold Abbot being arrested on November 2. Video still. Courtesy Browards Palm Beach New Times

Abbot and two fellow anti-poverty activists, church ministers Dwayne Black and Mark Sims, were arrested over the weekend, after the controversial no-feeding law came into force last week.

They were not taken into custody, however, and the case is yet to be heard by a judge, but on Wednesday they repeated the same “offense” of feeding homeless publicly. This time the act of civil disobedience was not interrupted by law enforcement, possibly because the conflict drew nationwide attention.

Abbot is one of many activists resisting what appears as a spreading trend in US cities to crackdown on homeless people. He says continuing his work is a matter of being true to his faith.

“I believe that I am my brother’s keeper. The name of our organization is ‘Love Thy Neighbor,’ and that’s what we do. We try to spread love, to help our fellow men,” he told RT.

“We have 10,000 homeless in Broward County, which is the county of which Fort Lauderdale is the principal city. Most of them are in Fort Lauderdale, and we want to take care of all of our people. We are all God’s children.”

But Mayor Jack Seiler says he has to take care of Fort Lauderdale business owners and residents. A major tourist destination, the city’s economy depends on being attractive, and the city authorities say having homeless people visible on the streets doesn’t help that.

“The parks have just been overrun and were inaccessible to locals and businesses,'' Seiler told RT.

The restriction of public feeding in the city’s burgeoning downtown requires organizers to place a feeding zone at least 500 feet from residential property and to seek permission from owners of nearby buildings. It’s the fourth ordinance aimed at curbing the presence of homeless people issued by the city in quick succession.

The mayor insists that charities have plenty of breathing space to continue their work under the new rules. Feeding can be organized indoors, for example in churches.

Abbot says charities will seek to overturn the new law in court the way they did 15 years ago, when the city sought to impose similar restrictions.

“We were stopped from feeding on the beach by the city of Fort Lauderdale and we took them to court. We sued them and we beat them. We beat them three times in a circuit court and they took us to the court of appeals in Palm Beach and we beat them twice there,” Abbot said.