by Bailey Eva Riley
This year has been a busy one for the homeless of Southern Florida and their advocates; some of them even spending just about as much time at City Hall as the city commissioners themselves. Since the beginning of the year the city has made triumphant efforts to curb several basic human behaviors of houseless folk by deeming them illegal. As if the houseless have ever been granted any real representation or rights, now the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) of Ft. Lauderdale has outlined a plan to “establish, maintain and preserve aesthetic values and preserve and foster the development and display of attractiveness.” The DDA doesn’t seem to acknowledge the consequences of these laws, and in fact, it seems difficult for them to really comprehend how dehumanizing they are. These efforts make one think that the city of Ft. Lauderdale and the DDA have an inability to recognize the worth in anything beyond its material value.
Per usual, the series of laws that have been passed are deemed necessary under ‘health and safety measures’. However, opponents of these laws have labeled them ‘homeless hate laws’. On October 31st Ft. Lauderdale joined 21 other cities nationwide, who have, in the past two years, begun enforcing anti-food sharing laws. This ordinance was the last of five recently passed in Ft. Lauderdale to restrict the rights of houseless folk. The City Commission also took part in passing ordinances that restrict the ability to utilize the restroom in public, panhandling, storage on public property (even with things as small as personal backpacks), and lodging on public property. While seemingly innocuous and reasonable to some, these laws, in reality, restrict people from having access to basic needs.
Critics of the resistance to these laws are quick to mention the 208 churches within the city limits of Ft. Lauderdale, which will still have the opportunity to share food with the homeless. However, to the advocates’ knowledge there are only four churches in the city that are currently involved in preparing and sharing meals for people. The city is outlawing those who are actively sharing food without putting any pressure on organizations who still have the legal ability but aren’t even interested in dabbling in the food sharing business.
Multiple groups, such as Love Thy Neighbor, Ft. Lauderdale Food Not Bombs, and the Peanut Butter & Jelly Project have been continuously engaging in their regular food sharings despite the enforcement of the newest ordinance. Multiple actions have ensued outside of scheduled sharings as well. On the day of the vote in City Hall plaza the aforementioned groups held a free dinner outside of the Hall. Multiple members of Ft. Lauderdale Food Not Bombs staged a sit-in to directly speak with Chris Wren of the DDA on Tuesday, November 4th, which resulted in eight arrests. Ninety-year old Arnold Abbott of Love Thy Neighbor was given a citation and notice to appear on three separate occasions. Food Not Bombs has continued to share food every Friday at 4:30pm at Stranahan Park in Ft. Lauderdale; last Friday two members were arrested for serving food, and one was given a citation and notice to appear. This is not the first time that groups like Food Not Bombs have been targeted in Florida. In Orlando, back in 2011, dozens of Food Not Bombs activists were arrested under a similar food-sharing ban ordinance. Ft. Lauderdale FNB member, Jillian Pim, has been on hunger strike since October 31st, and will continue to do so until the law is either overturned or has stopped being enforced. On Friday, November 14th, dozens of supporters will stand in solidarity and join her in hunger strike. Ft. Lauderdale FNB anticipates more arrests and promises not to stop until the laws are nullified.
Disgust courses through my veins as I write this. The idea that this issue has even been granted discourse is repulsive. Food is a right, not a privilege. Public food sharings bring so much more to the table than just meals. The homeless are often ignored and tossed aside, even regarded as an “urban blight” by some affiliated with the DDA. Sharing food with people brings us together; we share stories and laughs. We attempt to connect with the people we’re sharing food with. Homelessness is something that can so easily be something any of us would experience, and to deny people the right to food because you’d rather see people starve than see the value of your property drop is pretty abhorrent. These people will continue to fight because it makes sense, because it shouldn’t have to be discussed, because no one should have to go to sleep hungry, especially in the country that wastes more food than any other nation worldwide.