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Attorneys Take Aim At Ft. Lauderdale's Homeless Feeding Ordinance

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FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) -- Another day, another legal challenges to Fort Lauderdale's new law restricting outdoor homeless feedings.

On Thursday, a pair of legal heavyweights in Fort Lauderdale filed a motion on behalf Reverend Mark Sims, who was cited by police for violating the city's new ordinance. The lawyers -- William Scherer and Bruce Rogow -- want the law thrown out and the charges against the reverend dismissed.

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"This ordinance is not treating everyone in our community equally," Scherer said at an afternoon news conference.

Scherer said the law in unconstitutional, restricts Sims' right to his freedom of speech and religion and violates the right of people to assemble. He says the motion filed in court seeks to join a case already in the works by 90 year old Chef Arnold Abbott, whose been cited three times for feeding the homeless outdoors.

"My client and Chef Abbott have as much right to have people there that they serve food to as I did for my children's 4th of July picnic over there," Scherer said.

The city's new law says that homeless feedings should be held securely indoors with bathrooms and running water. The city says it is working with a group of churches as part of a plan to address homelessness. Reverend Sims, however, believes the city's intent behind the law -- and other laws aimed at the homeless -- is to force the homeless out of the city.

"I think one of the things we can do is find a more comprehensive plan to be able to feed and house those people who are hungry and homeless and also to care for those people where we do not have enough beds," Sims said.

On Wednesday, an attorney for Abbott filed a motion in court seeking to stop the city from enforcing the law, claiming that Abbott was granted permission by the courts in 2000 to conduct his feedings on Fort Lauderdale Beach on religious grounds.

"It's very simple," Abbott said, "it went to court 15 years ago to prevent that from happening and that law is still in effect."

Abbott said that is why he rejected the city's offer to conduct his feedings indoors at a local church or at the city's Aquatic Center.

Reverend Sims sees a silver lining in all the attention on the feedings, citations and encounters with police. He believes it might start a much-needed conversation about trying to solve the homeless situation.

"We can do so much better than this," he said. "If we can spend a fraction of the amount on humanitarian gestures that we do on tourist development we would be a much richer city for it."
Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler told CBS 4 News that he was prepared for legal challenges to the law. He said this is part of the process and that whatever the court decides the city will abide by.


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