The Ft. Lauderdale City Commission has a plan for the downtown homeless population. Not the plan they're making noise about, the one which would provide an indoor, air-conditioned location to feed people, but another one they'd rather avoid discussing. It's a plan to ban feeding in the city's parks, a decades-long practice provided by a variety of spiritual and secular groups. The proposed ban is favored by a majority on the commission, the city attorney and the downtown business elite, as represented by the Downtown Development Authority.
While the commission's determination to move ahead with a ban is contingent upon finding a location, as has been the goal of an ad hoc task force set up last September, the critical moment is nearing as the task force has begun making its proposals. It's just a matter of time before compromises and concessions are made to overcome the inevitable "not-in-my-backyard" responses from neighborhood group members on the task force, and a location is agreed upon.
Now is the time to tell the City Commission that while a fixed location would be a welcome addition to existing homeless services, banning feeding in the parks, which local and even ACLU attorneys guarantee will spur a legal challenge, is not an appropriate course of action. It also is important to tell them that the number one group opposing a ban is the homeless themselves.
Photo credit: psd
Homeless people feel safe being fed in the park, many have established relationships based on trust with those who serve them there and, as an informal survey conducted by the city's Director of Business Enterprises Cate McCaffrey confirmed last year, the homeless want the park feedings to continue though many are unopposed to the addition of an indoor feeding center located in the downtown vicinity.
A ban on feeding in the park also would surely spur legal challenges from local attorneys and, if necessary, even from the ACLU, as was the case in Ft. Lauderdale 11 years ago and in Orlando two years ago. To date, these legal challenges against feeding bans have succeeded in terms of enabling public feedings to continue. Does the City of Ft. Lauderdale intend to throw good money after bad in a legal fight which is bound to create ill-will amongst the most vulnerable members of the community and their many advocates?
I would urge the City Commission to continue in its search for a feeding/referral center but not to use the establishment of this center to ban feeding in Ft. Lauderdale's park(s).