Pastors attack Fort Lauderdale mayor on homeless feeding claims

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The mayor of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is deliberately misleading people about a programme to feed homeless people, say pastors there.

The city has put a new ordinance in place which opponents say is aimed at clamping down on the distribution of free food by church-run charities, saying it encourages homelessness. One of those to fall foul of the legislation was 90-year-old Arnold Abbott, who faces jail because of the activities of his Love Thy Neighbour charity. The legislation says that outdoor food programmes must provide a portable toilet and cannot be within 500 feet of residences, and Abbott said it was impracticable for the charity to comply.

Now, Fort Lauderdale mayor Jack Seiler has claimed that adequate feeding arrangements have been put in place to ensure that no homeless person went hungry. He told the Local10 news station: "There are dozens and dozens of proper locations in the city of Fort Lauderdale. We're working with some 70 churches, some 20-plus organisations – they're all feeding on a regular and daily basis."

However, the channel mounted its own investigation. Abbott said that he was "not aware of" the "dozens of locations", while Pastor Frank Pontillo, whose church is involved in food distribution, said that the mayor was lying to the public and that food was only available for four days a week, the same as before the ordinance was passed. Perry Cannon from the Hope South Florida charity said that additional feeding sites did not yet exist and said he would like to see the ordinance suspended until they could be set up.

Fort Lauderdale's problems are genuine, with many business people and others anxious to see a resolution to the issue. Robin Merrill, a gallery owner who formerly worked as a missionary in the Philippines among poor people and took part in open-air feedings there, told the New Times website: "These laws are not strong enough. We have some mentally ill homeless that have been there for over a decade. We're calling the police on literally the same people. Guys who are screaming death threats at the top of their voice... who refuse to get help."

Among other strategies to deal with its homelessness problem, Fort Lauderdale has budgeted $25,000 to purchase bus tickets for homeless people to leave town to be with their friends and family.