Guide Meant To Help Homeless Advocates Fight "Homeless Hate" Laws

Dec 31, 2014

Arnold Abbott has become the public face of efforts to overturn laws that some say criminalize the homeless.
Credit Lynne Sladky / El Nuevo Herald

  Efforts to regulate homeless activities and services in Fort Lauderdale have come under a microscope over the last couple months as advocate Arnold Abbott fights new city regulations on how and where food can be distributed to the homeless.

He is now battling that law in court after receiving three citations for continuing his food services illegally. A Broward County judge has since suspended the ordinance until early February.

In the meantime, The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty released an advocacy manual to guide other advocates in how to fight legal battles against laws Abbott and others say criminalize the homeless.

Tristia Bauman, senior attorney at The Law Center, worked on the report. She says legal action has been one of the most effective ways to achieve tangible change in homeless regulations.

“There are more and more ordinances that criminalize homelessness,” says Bauman, adding that the Fort Lauderdale ordinance is just one of many laws in the city, state, and country that impede on homeless individuals’ constitutional and civil rights.

The guide provides sample arguments that could be made against ordinances like panhandling bans, regulations on food sharing regulations, and restrictions on strong belongings.

Earlier this year, Bauman, co-authored a report that found a general trend towards criminalizing the homeless in Florida.

“When cities choose to criminalize, they expose themselves to liability and litigation, they’re likely to lose,” says Bauman.

Fort Lauderdale mayor Jack Seiler has repeatedly said his efforts to shepherd several restrictions on homeless activity were aimed at increase public health and safety.