Chef, 90, faces jail, fines for feeding the homeless

Sat Nov 8, 2014 7:14am EST
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By Zachary Fagenson

MIAMI (Reuters) - 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 nonprofit, 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, organized, 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 jewelry 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 criminalizes the homeless, and others who say feeding and panhandling helps keep them on the street.   Continued...

Arnold P. Abbott, president of the Maureen A. Abbott Love Thy Neighbor Fund, Inc., and culinary skills training program, organisations that feed and educate the homeless, poses in the office area of his home in Oakland Park, Florida, November 6, 2014. REUTERS/Andrew Innerarity