FORT LAUDERDALE — The residents won. A center to feed the homeless will not be located near Holiday Park following protests from people in surrounding neighborhoods.
City commissioners instead decided Wednesday to consider a site in an industrial area off Sunrise Boulevard. They also are exploring whether they can ban feeding in public parks outright and want to work with Broward County and Hollywood city officials to create a broader solution to the homeless problem.
The city has long sought to redirect the throngs of homeless who gather each day in a next to the downtown library. But officials have met with resistance and hurdles with each idea explored.
“You just can’t ignore the homeless problem in Fort Lauderdale,” Mayor Jack Seiler said. “The problem is not going away and we need to address it and find a way to do something with the help of the faith-based community.”
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Last month, the city had zeroed in on a small office building a block from the entrance to Holiday Park as a site where groups could distribute food to hundreds of homeless on a daily basis. Church groups involved in feeding the homeless favored the site, and the city could have leased it for less than $8,000 a month.
Nearby residents feared a feeding center there would drive the homeless into their communities. They told commissioners that they would be concerned about an increase in crime and vagrancy.
The site was so controversial that it set off a revolt in Victoria Park against its neighborhood association president, Ted Fling. Fling served on the city task force that identified potential sites for the feeding center.
“Right now, to me as a mom, it is a matter of safety,” said city resident Kathleen Pegues in opposing the site near Holiday Park.
People who help feed the homeless, though, were chagrined by what they viewed as a “not-in-my-backyard” mentality.
“The problem is not the homeless; the problem is there is not housing for everyone,” said homeless advocate Chris Booty. “The problem is that there is extreme poverty while many live in luxury and wealth.”
City Attorney Harry Stewart previously told commissioners that they needed to open a food distribution center if they wanted to ban feeding the homeless in public parks. However, on Wednesday, he noted the law may have changed.
A federal appeal court ruled this week that it’s OK for Orlando to restrict group feedings in a city park. Commissioners asked him to look further into the case.