FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - As media flocked to Fort Lauderdale to cover the city's criminalization of feeding the homeless in public, which has led to numerous arrests and citations in downtown's Stranahan Park, Mayor Jack Seiler pointed to complaints from the historic Fort Lauderdale Woman's Club as one reason for new laws on the homeless.
On Friday, a club representative sat down with Local 10 investigative reporter Bob Norman to tell that side of the story.
"I'm here today to bring awareness to the community of the fort Lauderdale Women's Club and what we are currently facing," said Fort Lauderdale Woman's Club public affairs chair Sally Alshouse.
Alshouse said there's a good reason the club wants homeless people to stop gathering at neighboring Stranahan Park, namely that those gatherings hurt its ability to rent the facility for weddings and other events it needs to survive financially.
"It makes it difficult to rent the property," said Alshouse. "There have been crowds down there sometimes, and it frightens the ladies. Sometimes you get approached by some of these folks and it just scares people, unfortunately."
Neighboring businesses feel the same way, saying the large homeless presence hurts their bottom line and has led to friction.
"They speak verbally abusively," said Alshosue. "That in and of itself is off-putting and not necessary in society."
"What do you think should be done with those crowds?" asked Norman.
"I don't have that answer," said Alshouse.
Fort Lauderdale has cracked down on homeless in the park with new ordinances, including one that outlaws public feedings, which has led to criminal charges against numerous people and international scrutiny on the city.
"A lot of people feel they're being forced out of the park," said Norman. "Do you feel like that's a good idea?"
"I think forced is a strong word….(I think) persuaded," said Alshouse. "I think we can work with the community and relocate the feeding areas."
But the city has conceded that those alternative feeding locations haven't materialized, with advocates claiming now there are three days of the week where there is no organized food sharing for the chronically homeless.
"A lot of folks want to see the ordinance suspended until those alternative feeding locations are set up and I wanted, again, to see what your point of view is on that," said Norman.
"I don't think that's my call," said Alshouse. "Let's leave that to the politicians."
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