Mayor barraged with angry emails over homeless feeding arrest

City of Fort Lauderdale: More than 2,000 emails, hundreds of phone calls come in from around the country, world

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – After city police charged 90-year-old humanitarian Arnold Abbott Wednesday night for a second time this week with feeding homeless people, more emails and phone calls jammed Fort Lauderdale City Hall from outraged people around the country and world.

VOTE: Do you agree with the Broward homeless feeding ordinance?

Since Monday, Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler has received hundreds of phone calls and more than 2,000 emails after police initially charged Abbott and two pastors Sunday for violating the new ordinance that makes feeding the homeless in public a crime.

The mayor acknowledged that national and international attention has generally been negative, but said Wednesday that he believes the people of Fort Lauderdale support the ordinance, which is punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.

"The response locally has been somewhat supportive, glad that we're enforcing the laws that we passed here in the city of Fort Lauderdale," said Seiler. "Very positive response locally. I think on the Internet there's been more of, I should say, has been a national response that has been a little bit critical of the City of Fort Lauderdale."

Seiler said the law, which was backed by the Chamber of Commerce, is aimed at helping the homeless rather than taking food out of their mouths. He said providing the homeless food in public only enables homelessness, and that he wants the homeless to utilize government and church services to get help.

"If you are going to simply feed them outdoors to get them from breakfast to lunch to dinner, all you are doing is enabling the cycle of homelessness," said Seiler.

But Abbott, who has been helping the homeless in Fort Lauderdale for the past 23 years, said he heard the same argument from the city's previous mayor, Jim Naugle. He said the mayor's idea that there is enough food and services is contradicted by reality, namely that there aren't nearly enough services available to help the homeless population.

"What the city is doing by cutting out feeding is very simple: They are forcing homeless people to go dumpster-diving all over again," Abbott said. "They will steal -- that's what the mayor is forcing the homeless to do."

Abbott said Seiler and the rest of the city commission are the puppets of business owners who want to run the homeless out of town -- or at least not have to see them. He points to other recently passed ordinances banning storage of personal belongings in public and strengthening laws against urination and defecation in public as examples of the city's hostility to the homeless.

Abbott said his nonprofit, Love Thy Neighbor Fund, does far more than conduct food sharings twice a week. He said it has helped change the lives of countless homeless people, like Rosemary Servoky, who was homeless and addicted to crack cocaine six years ago before meeting Abbott.

"Chef Arnold saved my life," said Servoky.

Abbott, as he has done with hundreds of homeless people, helped put Servoky through culinary school. She is now working with Love Thy Neighbor and off the streets.

"It's a wonderful thing he does," she said. "People are hungry, they need to eat."

Some say feeding homeless is not long-term solution