Edit: I just got an email response from the same account, and it is actually the Mayor personally and not his office. So that’s a pleasant surprise.
If you have The Facebook, you have likely seen various memes circulating around about this 90 year old man who was arrested in Fort Lauderdale, FL for feeding the homeless. When I saw this, I immediately thought of Love Wins Ministries and Biscuitgate, and perhaps because I was born and grew up mostly in Florida, I ended up contacting the Mayor of Fort Lauderdale via email. I don’t think I was rude or anything, but I was clear about what I thought about the situation.
I don’t doubt that he has been inundated with bad publicity as a result of this going public. It’s an odd time, when something like this will lead to a thousand memes on my Facebook feed, but when cities vote to criminalize helping the needy people don’t show up to fight it. At least, not enough people do.
Be that as it may, I actually got a message back from the Fort Lauderdale Mayor’s office. It explained more of the situation, and the Mayor talked about how he regularly volunteers his time feeding the homeless in his city. I wrote back, thinking that it was basically a form email and not expecting a response, but a couple days ago I got a lengthy reply elaborating on the city’s side of the issue. I thought I would just post it in its entirety here, since this is my main venue. And props to the Mayor for having a form email to follow up with responses to his form email on this issue. Here it is:
I further appreciate the opportunity to clarify much of the misinformation that has been prevalent in the media recently regarding the homeless.
[I left out his contact information from the signature, but it’s easy to find]
Contrary to reports, the City of Fort Lauderdale is not banning groups from feeding the homeless. We have established an outdoor food distribution ordinance to ensure the health, safety and welfare of our community. 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.
While the ordinance regulates outdoor food distribution, it permits indoor food distribution to take place at houses of worship throughout the City. By allowing houses of worship to conduct this activity, the City is actually increasing the number of locations where the homeless can properly receive this service.
At two recent outdoor food distributions, citations were rightly issued for non-compliance with the process enacted to ensure public health and safety. Contrary to what was reported in the media, no one was taken into custody. Had these activities taken place indoors, at a house of worship, they would have been in full compliance with the ordinance.
Experts agree, however, that homeless individuals need more than just food. The homeless need shelter, clothing, and comprehensive medical and social services in order to help them get back on their feet.
To set the record straight, few cities have done more for the homeless than Fort Lauderdale. We are taking a comprehensive approach by working with numerous agencies, non-profit, charitable and faith-based organizations that, like us, are dedicated to effectively addressing this complex and important issue. Our overarching goal is to provide a long-term comprehensive solution for the homeless population. While aiming for that goal, we are concurrently working to protect public safety and maintain quality of life for our neighbors, businesses and visitors.
Our efforts include:
• Fort Lauderdale was the first City in South Florida to establish a dedicated Homeless Assistance Unit as part of its Police Department. This Unit makes approximately 8,000 referrals a year working with the homeless to provide them with access to housing, critical medical care and social services. The award-winning initiative stands as a model that has been replicated by local, state, and national police departments and law enforcement agencies across the country.
• Fort Lauderdale is home to the only full service comprehensive Homeless Assistance Center in Broward County. The Center has been operating here since 1999. Recently, the Fort Lauderdale City Commission unanimously passed an ordinance allowing the Homeless Assistance Center to expand its size and scope of operations to accommodate more beds and serve more homeless.
• The City maintains an active partnership with Mission United, an organization dedicated to providing housing and social services to homeless Veterans.
• In addition to Mission United, the City maintains partnerships, provides resources and support to Broward County, the Broward Partnership for the Homeless, Housing Authority of the City of Fort Lauderdale, Salvation Army of Broward County, United Way of Broward County, Hope South Florida, and the Task Force for Ending Homelessness. These partnerships represent an outstanding example of how homelessness needs to be addressed – by bringing together a variety of agencies and organizations to collaborate, share resources, and leverage strengths in a unified effort to comprehensively impact homelessness through the coordination and delivery of essential programs and services.
• Fort Lauderdale is the only city in South Florida and one of 235 communities in the United States taking part in the 100,000 Homes Campaign, a national effort to move disabled, chronically homeless people from the street to a place of their own. Using the motto “Housing First,” the campaign reverses the traditional approach that required the homeless to go through addiction counseling and job training before earning a roof over their heads.
• Through the Housing First program, Fort Lauderdale is providing the most vulnerable homeless individuals with housing, medical, and social services. The program is funded by a $441,000 federal grant that the City of Fort Lauderdale secured from HUD. It is currently providing permanent supportive housing for 22 chronically homeless people.
• The City is proud to report that our initiative was recently re-funded by HUD. During the current year, we will have an additional $455,000 to continue to operate and expand this effort to serve even more chronic and vulnerable homeless in our City.
As part of our comprehensive strategy, the City has passed new ordinances that aim to reduce the public safety hazards and inappropriate nuisance activities that are negatively impacting our community. As a City, we have a responsibility to ensure that all of our public spaces are accessible and can be safely enjoyed by everyone – families, children, residents and visitors.
Our quality of life in Fort Lauderdale and our economic viability are directly linked to our stewardship of public spaces. The City continues to provide leadership in the implementation of innovative ideas to protect our quality of life while ensuring continued funding for programs and initiatives that address humanitarian needs.
The City, our neighbors, and our businesses have a long and distinguished history of compassion toward those in need.
If you would like to make a contribution to local non-profit agencies that help fund homeless assistance, substance abuse, and community support services in Fort Lauderdale, please visit: www.fortlauderdale.gov/give
Again, thank you for your interest in this important humanitarian issue.