Saturday, November 15, 2014

182.5 - Hero Award: Arnold Abbott

Hero Award: Arnold Abbott

Finally for this week, we have one of our occasional features: We call it the Hero Award and it's awarded for just doing the right thing on a matter big or small.

Our Hero this time is Arnold Abbott.

Every Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. for the past 23 years, 90-year-old Arnold Abbott has been feeding the homeless at a public beach in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He organized and heads the Maureen A. Abbott Love Thy Neighbor Fund, named in honor of his late wife, with who he first began giving food to the homeless back in 1979.

But since January 2013, 21 cities across the country have passed laws restricting public feedings of the hungry and homeless and 10 more have similar rules under consideration, according to an October report from the National Coalition to the Homeless. Nationwide, at least 57 cities have limited or banned public feeding.

In late October, Fort Lauderdale became one of those cities, passing a law for the specific purpose of making it harder to feed hungry homeless people.

The new law not only requires permits for setting up on public property, it requires portable toilets, hand-washing facilities, and more, facilities which the kind of shoe-string organizations that do this kind of work obviously cannot afford. Violations are punishable by up to 60 days in jail or a $500 fine, or both.

Arnold Abbott
On November 2, two days after the law went into effect, Abbott and several volunteers were running a food station outside a public park in open defiance of the law. He and two members of the local clergy were charged with violating the law and taken away. The city insists they were not "arrested," merely "cited" for a later court appearance, but since they were taken from the scene by police and held before being released, that strikes me as little more than a semantic difference.

Three days later, at 5:30 pm, Abbott was there at the beach where he has been every Wednesday for 23 years. He was cited again, facing now a second $500 find and/or 60 days in jail.

He says he will not give up. It's unlikely that the city government of Fort Lauderdale will be shamed into changing its ways; this is not the first measure the city has passed responding to the homeless there by trying to make them invisible rather than by assisting them.

Be that is it may, one thing remains clear: Arnold Abbott is a hero.

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