"We need to stop what is going on because it's not only hurting the homeless. It's hurting us as a city. Our community is shamed as a result of what we've done." ~Fort Lauderdale City Commissioner Dean Trantalis
On Tuesday, a Broward County judge heard the impassioned plea of Dean Trantalis.
Jurist Thomas Lynch entered a court order staying enforcement of Fort Lauderdale's controversial ordinance restricting public feeding of homeless people. Judge Lynch issued a 30-day stay and ordered 90-year-old homeless advocate Arnold Abbott and the city to mediate the issue.
Feeding the homeless on the beach or in a park does not really affect the economic vitality of Fort Lauderdale. It won’t cause us to lose the International Boat Show and it won’t stop tourists from filling the new hotels that are emerging along the Atlantic shores. It will only play the game of out of sight, out of mind. It will cover up what we know is here.
Homeless and helpless populations impact every major city. There are people who live that way because they choose to, and people who live that way because they have no choice. It is not Fort Lauderdale alone. The situation exists from here to Seattle.
As a community, all we can hope to do is offer aid and assistance, succor and support. We can’t change lifestyles, and we can’t alter history. But we don’t have to make tough times more difficult for the neediest amongst us.
Unfortunately, though, it was our city that chose to target a 90-year-old WWII veteran who has been feeding the homeless for years. And it is our city that now has an international black eye. They gauged public sentiment incorrectly, and they have hurt Fort Lauderdale’s reputation, not enhanced it.
Mayor Jack Seiler and the city commissioners have argued they were doing a good thing by regulating the hours, conditions, and the locations where homeless persons can be fed. Who were they kidding? They were again trying to find a way to hide the homeless. It’s nothing new here, as Fort Lauderdale has been burying its head and problems in the sand for years.
Decades ago, Fort Lauderdale even had a mayor who advocated putting kerosene in garbage cans to stop homeless persons from ferreting inside for food. We overcame his mindlessness. We built a homeless shelter. We have encouraged community policing. We have mental health specialists to assist homeless populations.
The new policy adopted by commissioners and enforced by legislative fiat has poisoned that progress. We have become a national laughingstock. Judge Lynch has tempered that foolishness for now, but yet another tougher legal challenge is ahead. It will be up to an appeals court to make the final ruling.
This year, only one city commissioner has stood up and tried to stem the tide of shame the restrictive new ordinance has brought to our community. The LGBT community has reason to be proud. That one person is Dean Trantalis, our lone LGBT representative on the commission.
Last week, he initiated a forum for his district that other commissioners ran from.
Trantalis is trying to fashion a 21st century approach to a centuries old problem. For this singular effort, he deserves recognition and praise. Trantalis did not do what was politically expedient or temporarily popular. He did what has always been morally right.
The sun that radiates our beaches does not feed the homeless. There is a hunger gap in our community. If you doubt it, drive by the central bus terminal adjacent to the McDonald’s on Andrews and East Broward Boulevard. You can’t avoid what is in front of your eyes.
Many of the homeless persons you see on these corners are LGBT teenagers as well, our younger brothers and sisters, often working the streets tonight for tomorrow’s meal.
Our issue today is of Christmas gifts and giving. It is the season where we are supposed to care. Let’s try doing so. Dean Trantalis has shown us the way. Jack Seiler, the mayor, has not. Our city can do better. It should have, and it needs to.