Food Network Chefs Robert Irvine and “Chopped” Cast Members, Reject Fort Lauderdale’s Criminalization of Compassion!

Jeff Weinberger
Co-founder, October 22nd Alliance to End Homelessness
Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Chef Robert Irvine, Host of Restaurant: Impossible
Chef Ted Allen, Host of Chopped
Judges and Chefs of Chopped
The Food Network

Dear Chefs Robert Irvine, Ted Allen and all:

I am writing to you today regarding a matter of great concern to those who, like me, struggle in support of the most downtrodden citizens of our city of Fort Lauderdale and beyond.

I would be remiss, however, to not begin by acknowledging your magnificent accomplishments in the culinary world and, through your Food Network shows, Restaurant: Impossible and Chopped, the joyful and exciting ways in which you’ve edified the pallets of millions of lovers of good food the world over. You can count us among them.

Another way in which you’ve spread the love of good food is by bringing your talents to the people by hosting events like those planned for the South Beach Wine & Food Festival. I imagine that you and your retinues of chefs must all be very excited as the 2016 event, one of the biggest in the world, will be kicking off next week.

The city where I live, Fort Lauderdale, for the first time will also be hosting a couple of events which are tied to the main festival. The Seaside Eats dinner at the historic Bonnet House on February 24, hosted by Chef Irvine, and the Bloody Mary Brunch at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel on the 28th, hosted by the cast of Chopped, will no doubt expand the flavor of the main event on South Beach. But this is also where our concern comes onto the menu.

A summary of that concern can be found here, in this piece from Mike Mayo, columnist for the Sun-Sentinel, published two weeks ago:

I and members of our group, the October 22nd Alliance to End Homelessness, are only some of the hundreds of citizens in our community and beyond who have been appalled at Fort Lauderdale’s treatment of its unhoused population for a number of years. The year 2014 attained a pinnacle of abuse, as our City Commission passed a series of five ordinances criminalizing homeless folk in a period of less than six months. Capping that off, on October 22nd, 2014, was the passage of a food sharing ordinance which was tantamount to a ban on public food sharing.

Eleven days later, when enforcement of the ordinance began, then 90-year-old Arnold Abbott, two clergymen and one of his helpers in the nonprofit he’d founded over 20 years ago, Love Thy Neighbor, were issued citations by Fort Lauderdale police for engaging in nothing more than an act of kindness, let alone what for some of them is a Biblical mandate to feed the poor. (Over the next ten days Arnold Abbott would be issued two more citations for sharing food; others were cited as well.) As a freelance journalist, I wrote the following for New Times, a story which spread and ultimately led to international scorn being heaped on our city:

While enforcement of this ordinance was stayed by a judicial injunction 30 days later, and it hasn’t been enforced at all since early December, 2014, the city is now preparing to reintroduce an amended version of the ordinance. We understand that it will again comprise unacceptable restrictions on public food sharing, including a mandate to obtain permits, to pay fees and other limitations. This plan comes while the city still faces four unresolved lawsuits stemming from its enforcement of the original ordinance, and with the guarantee of a renewed public outcry and media firestorm.

The upshot of this is that we feel compelled to call on you, Chef Robert Irvine and Chef Ted Allen and your crew, to publicly stand against the city of Fort Lauderdale’s expenditure of $65,000 to support food events to which your esteemed names are prominently attached. While at the same time the city’s most salient investment in its homeless population and those who care for them is a punitive regime, this appropriation is unacceptable. And while the totality of costs that will result from the city’s callousness is virtually incalculable, at least one of those costs is quantifiable. That would be the much more than $65,000 it already has spent, and will spend, on outside and internal legal support in defense of its intentions to ban public food sharing in Fort Lauderdale.

We will publicly be protesting both Fort Lauderdale events on the basis of the city’s history of abuse of its most needy and caring citizens, as outlined above, and for its $65,000 expenditure against the backdrop of that history. In this endeavor we also have the full backing of a statewide alliance which I helped found, the Florida Homelessness Action Coalition, as well as two of the largest homelessness advocacy organizations in the country, the National Coalition for the Homeless and National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty.

We therefore ask you to recognize that while you may play a key part in, and may be the beneficiaries of what we all hope will be wonderful food events for those able to partake, you need not endorse, by remaining silent, the shortsighted policies enacted by the Fort Lauderdale City Commission, led by Mayor John P. “Jack” Seiler.

Respectfully yours,

Jeff Weinberger
October 22nd Alliance to End Homelessness

Endorsed by the following:

Megan Hustings, Director
National Coalition for the Homeless

Laura Hansen, CEO
Coalition to End Homelessness (Broward County)

Reverend Craig Watts
Royal Palm Church/Member October 22nd Alliance

Reverend Gail Tapscott
Unitarian Universalist Minister/Member October 22nd Alliance

Pastor Frank Pontillo

Sean Cononie
The Homeless Voice Newspaper

Father Bob Caudill
All Saints Catholic Mission and Soup Kitchen

Pastor Dwayne Black
The Sanctuary Church

Professor Marc-Tizoc Gonzalez
St. Thomas University School of Law

Paul Boden, Executive Director
Western Regional Advocacy Project

Jon Dengler, Executive Director
Charissa Stepp, Operations Manager
The Well (Tampa)

Reverend Bruce Wright
Poor People’s Campaign (St. Petersburg)
Teresa Pugliese, Co-founder
Speak Up Florida (Orlando)

Carmen Kunze, Organizer
Food Not Bombs (West Palm Beach)

Jon Dengler, Executive Director
Charissa Stepp, Operations Manager
The Well (Tampa)

Reverend Bruce Wright
Poor People’s Campaign (St. Petersburg)

Teresa Pugliese, Co-founder
Speak Up Florida (Orlando)

Aaron Jackson
CNN Hero and Director of Planting Peace, Inc.

Bryan Ellis
ANSWER Coalition (Sarasota)

James Jones
Pinellas Greens/Gulfcoast Greens

Barbara Wright
The Refuge (St. Pete)

Robert Schuster
The COSAC Foundation Inc

Dr. Arthur Carl, Director
Harbourview House Mission


Reverend Lawrence Lacy
Senior Pastor, The Answer Church (Hollywood, FL)
Testimonial: “I certify that I’m in support of the letter and a collaborated effort to bring a heightened awareness to the general public regarding the plight of the homeless in these United States and exclusively to those who reside in the streets of the city of Fort Lauderdale and those surrounding municipalities.”

Roger Wickham

Krown Deon
Revolutionary Road Radio Show

Christina Wright
Students for a Democratic Society at USF St. Pete

Jessica Biedron, Juris Doctor Candidate 2017
St. Thomas University School of Law

Ken Churchill, Author
American Homeless Land Model

DeBorah Gilbert White Ph.D., Founder/Coordinator
HerStory Ensemble (Delaware)

Josh Loomis Ph.D., Professor of Biology
East Stroudsburg University
Formerly 10-year social services volunteer at Jubilee Center (Hollywood, FL)

Don Sawyer, Director/Producer
A Bigger Vision, LLC


About October 22nd Alliance to End Homelessness

I've been an organizer and freelance writer exposing the systemic roots of social inequality, especially the brutality inflicted on persons experiencing homelessness by means of laws criminalizing their existence, for about seven years. While seeking change at the local, state and national levels via progressive legislation, legal remedies and creative resistance, I believe that only through a radical reorganization of society, brought about by unified struggle with the powers that be, will we be able to guarantee every citizen the humane existence which we all deserve. I work locally in Broward County, FL, as founder of The October 22nd Alliance; across Florida with Florida Homeless Action Coalition (FL-HAC) which I also co-founded; and am allied nationally with National Coalition for the Homeless and National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. I support all struggle for the full liberation and equality of historically dominated people, from Blacks and Native Americans in the US, to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, to women and LGBTQ people the world over, and wherever the crushing machinery of capitalism and imperialism produces its endless supply of human misery.
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