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Feed Flagler’s 364-Day Blinders: Why Isn’t a Portion of Old Courthouse Considered as Homeless Shelter?

| November 21, 2014

The homeless need not apply. (c FlaglerLive)

The homeless need not apply. (c FlaglerLive)

It must be Thanksgiving because as with the first Thanksgiving, the pilgrims seem more interested in clobbering their neighbors than feeding them.

pierre tristam column flaglerlive.com flaglerlive Surely you’ve heard by now of Arnold Abbott. He’s one of those veterans, World War II in his case, governments love to shower with honors and flattery for his service, as long as it’s in the abstract and not the kind of service at home that makes governments sick, in Florida especially: helping the poor. That’s a problem for Abbott. He’s 90 years old, but he likes to feed the homeless.

Fort Lauderdale is one of those Florida cities that criminalizes anything to do with homelessness. Its ordinance forbids feeding them or providing them anything “life sustaining.” The ordinance actually uses those words, “life sustaining,” to define the prohibition. Three times now Abbott has been arrested and cited for feeding the homeless. He faces up to a $500 fine and two months in jail.


One of his arrests was caught on camera. Abbott had set up a table near a park in Fort Lauderdale. Two cops in full beef brisket gear walk up to him and, taking him by the arm and to the chants of “shame on you,” arrest him and two priests. The cops aren’t rough with Abbott. They gently walk him around the table to their cop car and issue him a citation while another cop packs up the food. The cops aren’t exactly to blame, as people gathered there seem to think. They’re doing their job, and I’m pretty certain every single one of them would rather be serving the food with Arnold and the priests than arresting them.

The fault, of course, is that of the Fort Lauderdale city government and others like it, among them Orlando, where your dreams come true. They must think that waging a war on the poor is as American as denying them apple pie.

It’s not like we’re that much better than Fort Lauderdale. Flagler County and Palm Coast have had their own homeless problem for years, with only one place, the First United Methodist Church in Bunnell, providing a decent refuge for the homeless to “lay their head,” as St. Matthew puts it. But the church has been saying for years that it can’t go it alone, and every once in a while the city’s crueler hearts band up against it. Meanwhile Palm Coast has been content to act as if the homeless either do not exist or should be chased off wherever they’re caught. The county does more, but it’s still only periodic outreach. It can do much more. In the old courthouse we have a 50,000 square foot government building sitting vacant for seven years, at a cost of $70,000 a year just for utilities. The county has been wrestling with what to do with the hulk all this time and just gave a committee three months to find it some tenants.

But not once this entire time has the county ever mentioned that perhaps a small portion of the building could be used as a homeless shelter, thereby generating those grant dollars county commissioners are constantly begging for. Not once. Even Charlie Ericksen, the only county commissioner who’s regularly volunteered at the homeless shelter on cold nights, has been silent on the matter.

The latest of countless committees organized to figure out a use for the thing is focused on the buzz word of the day: “economic development.” It’s looking for a knight riding a shining business plan, or a platoon of knights anyway, to get in there and get the clunker off the county’s burdens. The county must think the homeless are too dirty to share a building with, that economic development and social responsibility are mutually exclusive. That’s small thinking.

No business in its right mind these days would occupy that place without all sorts of guarantees and costly pre-requisites fulfilled. It’s likelier to be mothballed or demolished, in whole or in part, before it finds a more useful life again, though a second life as a hybrid business center and socially conscious hub isn’t at all an unrealistic John Lennon song. It’s quite possibly the building’s only chance short of rubble.

But no. Politely, wordlessly, the word on the homeless remains what it’s always been: screw ’em.

So we will ignore them, harass them, arrest them, we’ll feed them a meal once a year—and the county in all its hypocrisy will even sponsor the feeding through Feed Flagler before going back to ignoring them. But we will not house them.

God forbid Christ walked among us. He was Mr. homeless, if he was anything at all. If the Grand Inquisitor caught him around these parts, he’d probably spend Thanksgiving at the Flagler County jail, assuming Fort Lauderdale didn’t want him extradited there for beefier punishment.

Pierre Tristam is FlaglerLive’s editor. Reach him by email here and follow him on twitter @pierretristam.

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17 Responses for “Feed Flagler’s 364-Day Blinders: Why Isn’t a Portion of Old Courthouse Considered as Homeless Shelter?”

  1. Gia says:

    Ft Lauderdale & other cities are perfectly right with their ordinances. Generally speaking homeless put themselves were they are. They became the society parasites always blaming something else or everybody else for their situation. Trashing, degrading cities & want free everything & do not contributed to society.

    • Nancy N says:

      Don’t contribute to society? Tell that to the more than 10% of the homeless who are veterans, having served our country in the military.

      On any given night in this country, between one and two million children are homeless. CHILDREN. Explain to me how kids are to blame for not having a home?

      I’ve noticed over and over again from your comments here Gia that your heart seems filled with hatred for anyone that isn’t like you. I don’t know what happened to you in your life that you are so incapable of compassion for other human beings but I feel sorry for you.

      All people have worth. Try setting aside the judgement and opening your heart to people whose life experience is different than yours.

    • Rob says:

      It sounds like this lady has been living on a full belly all of her life.

    • Darla says:

      Shame on you Gia, it is not always a homeless persons fault that they are in that position. Why don’t you go and talk with some homeless people and listen to their stories. So we should just arrest a person for doing something nice for others, that’s what is wrong with our country today, it’s all about me and no one else.

    • KB63 says:

      It must be nice to have such beautiful gold blinders on. Apparently you or no one you know has ever been a soldier with PTSD, never had a mental illness, never been in foster care & kicked out on the street, never spent every dime on medical bills trying to save a loved one, never had an addiction, or simply doesn’t have a job that pays enough for rent. There are very few homeless who choose it and until society chooses to do something about it the numbers will continue to grow!

    • Edman says:

      I beg you to volunteer one night at the shelter and meet some of these men women and children who are down on their luck. You might lear to be a true Christian. I pray for narrow minded people like you everyday.

  2. confidential says:

    Shame on you Gia!
    What about some sincere compassion of our fellow men, women and children fallen into financial despair and homelessness and mostly to no fault of their own.
    Yes, we should all have an obligation to help them…while we spend billions helping foreigners human rights allover the world in these useless wars! Not to be chastise for being poor, homeless and hungry, is a human right too. Don’t add to their misery but help our own first.

  3. Florida Girl says:

    A huge percentage of the homeless are mentally ill – guess that is there fault too. You know Gina, karma and fate have a way of changing narrow minded points of views like yours. When I think of a person like you, I think of genocide. I think it would be a fantastic idea and contribution to humanity – to use that court house for something good, something needed – giving back to our people, regardless of their “circumstances” – even the addicts, and mentally ill, prostitutes – each one of us is fighting a bottle no one knows about – it’s not your fight, or your lesson – but we can be sympathetic as a human race. Or how about a family that suffered a house fire, or families that lost their center period. Does it mean they should suffer? I would rather try, and fail – then do nothing. Each one of us is here to decide the future of mankind – we borrow our earth from our grandchildren. Carve something good out for Bunnell… It was home to some of us once.

  4. confidential says:

    Good use for that courthouse, after all belong to us all, the taxpayers. Make a homeless shelter out of it , the free clinic and mental illness treatment facility and a training center for the homeless to learn new skills and try to get them jobs, helping to make them self sufficient and get employed after a while. Ask the community also to donate and make fundraising events to help minimize expenses. Get federal and state grants to fund also the expenses.

  5. Will says:

    Score update.

    Gia – 1 :
    People with a little room in their hearts – 7

  6. snapperhead says:

    How many of you are willing to open up your home to a homeless person,or family? Surely some of you have the space and means to help those you seem so concerned for. That would be the Christian thing to do.

  7. life can be an adventure says:

    I love the idea of the old court house becoming a home for the less fortunate and finally bringing justice to this peaceful bunnell community ,we really should be kind and loving, start today and pray for Gia. God Bless,

  8. KarenB says:

    Gia.. What an ugly and sad comment, unfortunately you are not alone, as your opinion and views are shared by many. When I first read your response to the article, I was so angry, my brain was spitting out sentence after sentence, words of anger. I wanted to attack you with the same hurtful words that you used to describe our fellow humans. After my initial angry gut reaction, I came to my senses. Thankfully I am surrounded by and honored to bear witness to people who are the total antithesis of you. I don’t know if I or anyone else will be able to change your mind. Maybe it’s not our job . I personally cannot phantom, how you can treat a group of people with such vile and lack of compassion. Your view is skewed and the dehumanization of people is disturbing . In the words of a very wise 8 year old, “maybe no one ever hung a star with your name on it ” Instead of trying to explain homelessness, rattle off statistics, I would like to invite you to serve Thanksgiving dinner at the United Methodist Church in Bunnell. Come see what homelessness looks like, it has a face, many faces. We gather together as a community, knowing that we can’t change someone’s life in a single afternoon or with a single meal. What we can do is show them generosity of heart and spirit and simple human kindness. I guarantee you will never be the same .

  9. Sherry Epley says:

    Dear Readers and Active Participants of Flaglerlive,

    It is so moving to read the outpouring of compassion for those less fortunate. We in the community and the entire social and cultural system of the nation are nourished and honored by your generous and understanding hearts and souls! Thank you all, so very much!

    Unfortunately, it seems all too evident that many, many other. . . much more silent . . . people deeply believe and even act out of the fear and hatred of fellow human beings in the way that GIA portrays in these comments on an all too regular basis. Unfortunately also, the recent political elections reflect those onerous, uncaring attitudes. Those who are passionately against any human being different than themselves or their particular “tribe”, carry that passion to the polls. . . to elect other “non-caring” of the same ilk.

    While I hope our comments leave an impression on GIA and perhaps, put a tiny doubt and chink in that tragically sad armor of theirs, wouldn’t it be wonderful to have that “positive” passion carry forward to getting out the vote for more compassionate, progressive leaders in our state and our country. That is where we can still “really” make a difference.

    As for GIA. . . let us all hope for a tremendous change. . . one that will bring peace and joy into their life, so that poison is replaced with kindness. Miracles happen every day!

  10. Lancer says:

    Interesting enough, Gia’s comments, though lacking emotional outpouring and sensitivity, are statistically correct. If anyone cares to undertake actual research, her concerns have merit.

    Yes, we have homelessness in this country. We also have a crystal meth epidemic. So…how do we effectively combat the problem? As a country, we have over 100 social programs on the books and have spent trillions of dollars, through the decades, since LBJ’s “great society” effectively waged war on poverty. It’s time to admit and acknowledge the elephant in the room: Our government’s efforts and funding has been inefficient, wasted and has NOT been effective.

    Cities don’t like the homeless on their streets because it makes their cities look bad, lowers property values, etc. The fact of the matter is: That’s all true.

    No one, especially Gia, is for rounding up and “beating up on the homeless”. It is a ridiculous assertion to believe that all of us don’t have a certain amount of empathy towards people that are facing tough times. However, to not admit that personal choices have played a great part is illogical and can’t be waved away with an emotional attack.

    We are a great country and we have great, innovative people. We need to shift to providing solutions that are more effective and efficient to deal with our society’s problems. The road we are going down isn’t working. I trust my fellow citizens will be willing to donate their time and efforts to reach out, personally, to help those in need.

    Happy Holidays.

  11. Lancer says:

    …and I’d really like to see what the initial and annual costs would be for renovation, maintenance and overhead for the courthouse to be made a shelter. What will the policies be concerning housing, etc.?

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