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The Technicality Of Fort Lauderdale's Homeless Feeding Ban

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When the city of Fort Lauderdale placed new restrictions on how different groups could feed the homeless, many South Florida residents were dumbfounded.

They reacted in the form of social media memes and Facebook posts. Concerned citizens drafted letters to Mayor Jack Seiler, threatening to boycott the city if the new regulations weren’t lifted. And this week the hacker group Anonymous addressed a video to Mayor Seiler, announcing it would shut down the city's official web page until he lifted the restrictions on feeding the homeless.


The story of drew international attention when 90-year-old Arnold Abbott was arrested and released on-site twice for feeding homeless people in Fort Lauderdale.

The actual act of feeding the homeless in Fort Lauderdale is not illegal. But new conditions centered on protecting the public’s safety and health make it more difficult for nonprofit organizations like Love Thy Neighbor and Project Downtown to feed the hungry.

“Historically, measures in public health have often been politicized,” says Jessica Adler, assistant professor in history and health policy management at Florida International University. “An ordinance like this is bound to cause controversy because it addresses fundamental questions about civil liberties.”

Adler is talking about whose rights should be prioritized: those of homeless people and their advocates, or city residents and officials who say unrestricted access is detrimental to the community.

Mayor Seiler addressed the issue in a statement, highlighting the positive homeless initiatives the city has carried out.

“The ordinance does not prohibit feeding the homeless; it regulates the locations where these activities can take place and ensures they are carried out under safe, sanitary, and healthy conditions,” he said.

The new food-serving requirements-- which include providing restroom and hand-washing facilities as well as a Food Service Manager Certification -- are virtually the same as the requirements of a restaurant.

The difference seems to lie in the zoning requirements.

Food-sharing groups that feed the homeless are considered “social service establishments” (SSR). They cannot be with 500 feet of residential areas or other SSRs. While these are different from “food service establishments” (FSR) -- like restaurants, bars, and cafeterias -- they are both expected to abide by the same rules of food safety.

The Florida Department of Health’s Hygiene Codes and Standards suggest that not having hand washing facilities or portable toilets can make consumers more prone to foodborne illnesses.

Advocates of the new regulations say the immune systems of homeless people are generally weakened, and serving food that may not be “quality” is more dangerous for the homeless.

Advocates of groups like Love Thy Neighbor say homeless people who are starving just want to eat.

Following the shutdown of Fort Lauderdale's website by Anonymous, a Broward County judge issues a temporary ban on the feeding restrictions.

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