Lawfully feeding hungry people in Fort Lauderdale just became much more difficult.
The city passed an ordinance on Oct. 22 that limits where groups can set up sites to feed the hungry on public property by requiring them to secure permission from property owners, as well provide portable toilets for events, according to the Sun Sentinel.
On Sunday, police officers cited at least three people -- a 90-year-old who has been giving food to the hungry for more than two decades, as well as two clergy members -- for violating the new ordinance, the Sentinel reported. The citations were given out in an effort to shut down a gathering by advocacy group Love Thy Neighbor, which was providing lunch to many homeless individuals in Stranahan Park.
Micah Harris is one local advocate upset by the ordinance, which took effect last Friday. Through volunteers and donations, his organization, the Peanut Butter and Jelly Project, provides meals to the homeless in Fort Lauderdale almost every day and has helped 36 people get off the street, Harris told WPLG Local 10 News.
He said his organization and other similar groups play a vital role to the people they help, who are "literally starving on the streets."
"For lack of a better term, it's atrocious," he told WPLG of the new ordinance. "It's disgusting."
Fort Lauderdale is among many American cities making it more and more difficult to live as a homeless person without being fined or jailed for breaking the law. A report by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty discovered that citywide bans on camping in public have increased by 60 percent since 2011, while bans on panhandling having increased by 25 percent in the same span of time.
Fort Lauderdale has a controversial track record when it comes to its treatment of homeless residents. In September, the city passed a different measure that banned sleeping, or "camping," within the downtown area, as well as an ordinance prohibiting panhandling at busy intersections, the Sun Sentinel reported.
Those laws are punishable by up to 60 days in jail or a $500 fine, or both.
"It looks like the city is choking out every avenue for the homeless to survive in the city," Haylee Becker of the group Food Not Bombs had told the Sun Sentinel of the ordinances passed in September. "I think that they're all terrible ordinances, but coupled together, it's a death sentence."
But Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler has defended the newest measure that restricts feeding the homeless, claiming police officers won't sway their approach to enforcing the law based on "some media attention."
"If [groups feeding the homeless] break the law and it's observed by one of our law enforcement officers, they are subject to arrest," he told Local 10 News.