US pensioner arrested for feeding the homeless

Emma Woollacott
Arnold Abbott
Arnold Abbott

A 90-year-old man has been arrested in the US and may face jail, simply for feeding the homeless.

Arnold Abbott, along with a team of volunteers, has been dishing out meals to the homeless since 1991. But on Sunday, he and two ministers from the Sanctuary Church were arrested as they fed people in a Fort Lauderdale park. They face 60 days in jail and a $500 fine if convicted.

"One of police officers came over and said 'Drop that plate right now', as if I was carrying a weapon, he told new station Khon.

The arrest was made under a new law banning people from sharing their meals with members of the public and designed to restrict feeding the homeless. Under the new regulations, outdoor feeding programmes need a permit or permission of the property owner and must provide portable toilets, and can't be within 500 feet of residential properties.

Even indoors, sites can't be within 500 feet of one another and only one is allowed per block.

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90-Year-Old Florida Man Facing Jail Time After Feeding Homeless
90-Year-Old Florida Man Facing Jail Time After Feeding Homeless

According to the US National Coalition for the Homeless, Fort Lauderdale is one of 21 cities to pass laws restricting the feeding of the homeless - and ten others have legislation in the pipeline.

Fort Lauderdale officials deny that the regulations make it effectively impossible to help the homeless.

"The ordinance allows for legal, clean and safe distribution of food to the homeless,"Fort Lauderdale Police Department detective DeAnna Greenlaw told Fox News.

"For example, if a minister, priest or member of clergy wishes to provide food to the homeless at their establishment (ie community hall, church or gathering place), they can do so if the proper facilities, as listed in the ordinance, are in place."

However, Abbott says that he and the other volunteers simply can't afford to provide portable toilets.

It's not the first time that Abbott's efforts to help the disadvantaged have landed him in trouble. In 1999, the city tried to stop him from feeding the homeless on Fort Lauderdale Beach - though on that occasion he sued and won.

"I'll go to court again and sue the city," said Abbott. "They are doing the bidding of the very wealthy, and they are trying to sweep the poorest of the poor under the rug."

Three years ago, Conservative-run Westminster Council made headlines by threatening to ban soup runs for the homeless. It wanted to introduce a bylaw lowing officials to fine people in and around the Westminster Cathedral piazza if they distributed free food and drink. The plans were finally dropped after an outcry by campaigners.

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