Two Florida pastors and a 90-year-old advocate for the homeless received a citation on Sunday after they distributed food to the needy.
Pastor Dwayne Black of The Sanctuary Church in Ft. Lauderdale, Pastor Mark Sims of St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church in Coral Springs, and Arnold Abbott of Love Thy Neighbor, Inc. were cited for violating a Ft. Lauderdale ordinance that specifies how food can be distributed in public.
Legislation passed last month says that outdoor food programmes must provide a portable toilet, and cannot be within 500 feet of residences. Abbott, whose non-profit has fed over 1,400 people since 1991, said that the portable toilet requirement is a financial burden.
"I have tried to abide by their regulations, but we just are not able to provide a port-a-potty," he told Fox News. "I believe that is the job of the municipality, anyway."
Video footage shows the men being led away from the feeding stations and given a citation for violating the ordinance while on-lookers yell "Shame on you" and "The world is watching" at the police officers.
The pastors must appear in court, and face 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. Abbott said he plans to feed more homeless people on Wednesday night.
"I know that I will be arrested again, and I am prepared for that," he explained. "I am my brother's keeper, and what they are doing is just heartless."
Pastor Sims also criticised the city's ordinance.
"We are simply trying to feed people who are hungry," he told the Sun-Sentinel. "To criminalise that is contrary to everything that I stand for as a priest and as a person of faith."
Mayor Jack Seiler disagreed.
"I'm not satisfied with having a cycle of homeless in city of Fort Lauderdale," he said. "Providing them with a meal and keeping them in that cycle on the street is not productive."
Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust chairman Ron Book shared a similar sentiment.
"Feeding people on the streets is sanctioning homelessness," he said. "Whatever discourages feeding people on the streets is a positive thing."
Pastor Black acknowledged that the city's estimated 10,000 homeless people are part of a larger problem.
"But let's just feed them," he insisted, "and then deal with other issues."