90-Year-Old Man Defies Police Orders, Continues Feeding Homeless People

Arnold Abbott faces prison time and large fines, but that’s not stopping him.

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Arnold Abbott, 90, has been feeding homeless people in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for more than two decades. He has said that this is his life’s mission. He even started a culinary program that trains homeless people in hopes of getting them jobs at local kitchens. But on Oct. 21, the city of Fort Lauderdale made his generosity a crime when they passed an ordinance that placed strict restrictions on sharing food.

Last weekend, Abbott was cited for breaking the new ordinance. He faces up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.

"One of the police officers said, 'Drop that plate right now,' as if I were carrying a weapon," Abbott told the Associated Press.

But that’s not stopping Abbott. On Wednesday evening, he returned to the public beach where he cooks up food and was met with cheering crowd of nearly 100 homeless people and volunteers.

AP reported:

"God bless you, Arnold!" some in the crowd shouted.

 "Thank God for Chef Arnold. I haven't eaten all day. He feeds a lot of people from the heart," said 56-year-old Eddie Hidalgo, who described himself as living on the streets since losing his job two years ago.

Police officers let Abbott feed people before issuing him another citation.

 A local station reported that the city had tried to stop Abbott from feeding homeless people before, in 1999. He took them to court, won his lawsuit, and said he’s prepared to fight against the new ordinance once again.

"I’m going to have to go to court again and sue the city of Fort Lauderdale -- a beautiful city," Abbott told Local 10. "These are the poorest of the poor, they have nothing, they don't have a roof over their heads. How do you turn them away?"

Abbott’s story is part of a larger, national crusade to criminalize food-sharing. In its recent report, the National Coalition for the Homeless found that since January 2013 alone, food-sharing laws have been adopted in more than 20 cities. This is a 47 percent increase since the coalition’s last report in 2010.

“I know of no city in the country in which a low-income person could eat three meals a day, seven days a week at an indoor location,” Michael Stoops, editor of the new report, told AlterNet. “And that’s why food-sharing programs are really important to narrow the gap.”

Alyssa Figueroa is an associate editor at AlterNet. 

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