Thursday, November 6, 2014

Pastors, 90 Year Old Guy Arrested For Despicable Crime: They Fed Homeless People.

Arnold Abbott, 90, being arrested for the terrible crime
of feeding homeless people.  
Fort Lauderdale, Florida sure doesn't like homeless people all that much.  

Nor does it like people who try to help them.

Case in point: Fort Lauderdale Police arrested two pastors and a 90 year old man who defied a new city ordinance against feeding homeless people. The trio belong to a homeless advocacy group called Love Thy Neighbor.

Not only does Fort Lauderdale appear cruel to the homeless, they are So Bad at public relations. I mean really.

A 90 year old guy tries to feed homeless people and he gets arrested for his efforts?

Homeless advocate Jeff Weinberger gives the following account in the Broward Palm Beach Times:

"At least four police cruisers and a half dozen uniformed cops were ready and waiting for Love Thy Neighbor --not exactly the Clanton Gang-- when the group showed up at its spot adjacent to Stranahan Park as it does every sSunday at 1 p.m. in a white van armed with trays of food. The group's 90-year-old founder, Arnold Abbot, previously had announced that the new ordinance would not deter him from sharing food as he's done for the past 23 years."

Probably the saddest, oddest moment of the arrests when one of the cops allegedly yelled "Drop that plate!" as if the dinner for some homeless person was a gun.

Granted, homelessness is a sticky, complicated, practically impossible problem for cities, or anyone else for that matter, to solve.

I get the concerns some cities where a lot of charities have that  feed the homeless might attract more homeless people to their communities, straining services. But I'm not so sure a blanket ban on helping the homeless is effective.

Besides, don't you just feel a little, teensy, weensy bit bad for these people? They've been dealt a bad hand. Maybe they can't find a job. Or they have mental health issues. Or substance abuse problems. Or they're fleeing an abusive spouse. You never know what made any particular homeless person homeless.

They're not going to disappear off the face of the Earth if you try to drive them out of town and pretend they don't exist.

Some people are trying anyway.

According to NBC News, citing the National Coalition for the Homeless, at least 33 American cities have bans, or are considering bans on sharing food with the homeless, as those guys in Fort Lauderdale did.

What works better, says Robert Marbut, a national homeless consultant quoted by NBC is more nuanced. He said cities and charities should have comprehensive programs to deal with the three major causes of homelessness: a lack of jobs, mental illnesses and chronic substance abuse.

Granted, that's not easy. And not always effective with everyone. But Marbut says these programs reduce homeless populations by 80 percent.

That means cities save money in the long run because they cities don't have to devote so many resources of dealing with people in crisis on the street.  Or arresting people trying to feed the homeless.

A few cities do a hybrid law that doesn't ban feeding or otherwise helping the homeless, but combines restrictions with aid to people without homes.  In these cities charities must get permits to feed the homeless, and are restricted in the number of days and hours they can operate.

That helps prevent locations where the homeless are fed to become too overwhelmed by the activities.

According to an article in The Atlantic, feeding the homeless doesn't necessarily offer an incentive for people to stay on the streets, but Marbut says it does.

Who knows?  Like I said, it's complicated. Which means a simple solution, like just banning charitable members of the public from feeding homeless people, is the ultimate in stupidity. Yeah, everyone loves the sound of simple solutions, but they don't work.

Plus, you get the sad spectacle of police arresting some 90 year old guy for handing a plate of food to some homeless person. As if the 90 year guy was opening fire with an AK-47.  People, it's just a plate of food. Relax.

The 90 year old guy who's been committing the High Crime of feeding the homeless, Arnold Abbott, seems like an incredibly nice guy.

Says the Associated Press:

"Abbott, a World War II vetern and civil rights activist, told the Associated Press that he has been serving the homeless for more than two decades in honor of his late wife. He has several programs, including a culinary school to train the homeless and help find them jobs in local kitchens."

Maybe the fine leaders of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, could drop their guns and opposition to feeding the homeless. Maybe they could pick up a plate, and a spoon and serve a hungry guy or gal.

It's called paying it forward.

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