Contrary to media reports, Fort Lauderdale is not banning groups from feeding the homeless. We have established an outdoor food distribution ordinance to ensure the health, safety and welfare of our community.
The ordinance does not prohibit feeding the homeless; it regulates the activity in order to ensure it is carried out in an appropriate, organized, clean and healthy manner.
While the ordinance regulates outdoor food distribution, it permits indoor food distribution to take place at houses of worship throughout the city. By allowing houses of worship to conduct this activity, the city is actually increasing the number of locations where the homeless can properly receive this service.
At recent outdoor food distributions, citations were rightly issued for non-compliance with the process enacted to ensure public health and safety. Contrary to some reports, no one was taken into custody.
Experts agree that homeless individuals need more than just food. The homeless need shelter, clothing and comprehensive medical and social services to help them get back on their feet.
Few cities have done more for the homeless than Fort Lauderdale. We are taking a comprehensive approach by working with numerous agencies, non-profit, charitable and faith-based organizations that, like us, are dedicated to effectively addressing this complex and important issue. Our overarching goal is to provide a long-term comprehensive solution for the homeless population. While aiming for that goal, we are concurrently working to protect public safety and maintain quality of life for our neighbors, businesses and visitors.
Our initiatives include:
▪ Fort Lauderdale was the first city in South Florida to establish a Police Homeless Outreach Unit, which currently makes 8,000 referrals a year providing access to housing, critical medical care, and social services. The award-winning initiative has been replicated by law-enforcement agencies across the country.
▪ Since 1999, Fort Lauderdale has been home to the only full-service comprehensive Homeless Assistance Center in Broward County. The city recently approved expanding the center’s size and scope of services.
▪ The city maintains an active partnership with Mission United, a program dedicated to providing housing and social services to homeless veterans.
▪ The city also supports Broward County, the Broward Partnership for the Homeless, Housing Authority of the city of Fort Lauderdale, Salvation Army of Broward County, United Way of Broward County, Hope South Florida, the Task Force for Ending Homelessness, and many others.
▪ Fort Lauderdale is the only city in South Florida and one of only 235 communities nationwide participating in the 100,000 Homes Campaign (Housing First) to move disabled and chronically homeless people into permanent housing.
▪ Our Housing First initiative was recently re-funded for a second year, giving us an additional $455,000 to continue to operate and expand this effort to serve even more homeless.
As part of our comprehensive strategy, the city has passed new ordinances that aim to reduce the public safety hazards and inappropriate nuisance activities that are negatively affecting our community.
Our quality of life and our economic viability are directly linked to our stewardship of public spaces. As such, we have a responsibility to ensure that all of our public spaces are accessible and can be safely enjoyed by everyone — families, children, residents and visitors.
The city, our neighbors and our businesses have a long and distinguished history of compassion toward those in need.
We encourage those groups feeding the homeless to partner with agencies and organizations that, like Fort Lauderdale, are taking a comprehensive approach to this issue so that we can begin to make real progress — instead of enabling the downward cycle of homelessness to continue.
John P. “Jack” Seiler is mayor of Fort Lauderdale.