As the plight of homelessness increases, tolerance for the down-and-out is decreasing, or so it seems at least in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  Recently, Broward County Judge John Hurley made more noise with his rulings and opinions than any courtroom gavel ever could.

When Michael Cocherns appeared before Judge Hurley for yet another panhandling offense, it was the last straw for angry courtroom official.  Judge Hurley quickly unleashed his fury by asking, “Why can’t you get it through your head that you can’t panhandle in traffic?  Why don’t you stop banging on people’s windows in traffic and leave them alone?”

Cocherns denied the charge but did admit to having a drug problem.  Also present and paying close attention to the heated comments was public defender Howard Finkelstein who had a few words of his own.  “If the judge is so upset at homeless people, then he should not be sitting as a judge on their cases,” Finkelstein stated afterwards.

Apparently, there is no love lost between the public defender’s office and Hurley.  Not long ago, the judge had an assistant public defender removed from his courtroom for arguing on behalf of a homeless man.  Attorney Finkelstein made it perfectly clear that he felt Judge Hurley should be transferred out of his post based upon his feelings towards the homeless.

Nevertheless, Judge Hurley is not alone on his stance and neither is Finkelstein.  As the temperatures drop even in the sunshine state and despite the efforts of Florida activists to feed the homeless, there is further opposition from Fort Lauderdale’s mayor Jack Seiler.  The mayor has voted through a number of new laws with the sole purpose of clamping down on the city rising homeless population.  These restrictions include:  sleeping on public property, roadside panhandling and storage of personal belongings in public places.

Two days after the law went into effect, two local pastors along with 90-year-old Arnold Abbott were arrested for attempting to serve meals to homeless citizens at a public park.  Abbott is a World War II veteran and founder of Love Thy Neighbor, a non-profit organization.  The nonagenarian says he plans to continue feeding Fort Lauderdale’s homeless plus file a lawsuit against the city in an effort to get the ordinance overturned.

Pastor Dwayne Black of the Sanctuary Church was also arrested alongside Abbott.  Black also expressed his defiance against the lack of compassion shown and vowed to continue in his calling to not let human beings go hungry, despite risking another arrest.  The pastor told the Guardian, “But now it’s a crime to feed a hungry person.  The city says that it creates an eyesore; they are saying that human beings being fed is an eyesore.”

Homelessness is a rapidly growing problem in today’s society.  As long as there are low wages, which is expected to cover the high costs of food, medicine, child care and housing, homelessness will be an issue.  As long as the mental health agencies lack funds and resources, this will be an issue.  We also live in a society that is so politically influenced.  Does being homeless mean if you can’t vote you don’t matter?

Undoubtedly, Finkelstein made a very valid point.  Perhaps this particular judge should not be sitting on cases that get him all riled up.  It’s like working as a caretaker but having no compassion for your patients or making a living as a mortician but is easily squeamish.  If Cocherns was not being disrespectful to the judge then why should he have been berated?  Why should an assistant public defender be removed for doing her job?  To be treated with dignity is not much to ask for.  Not all homeless people relish living on the street.

When communities, activists or even public defenders are not allowed to serve the citizens in their communities then it only perpetuates the condition.  It also makes for another type of society – the cold-hearted society.  Sure, laws must be enforced and decisions handed down, but alternatives and solutions need to be considered and created.  Resources directed towards solutions are long overdue.  There are too many abandoned buildings across the nation to not be used, too much food being wasted,not enough assistance given to mental health organizations, and the list goes on.  Oh, how easy it is to forget that a downfall can befall any one of us, but helping hand from any direction can go a long way.

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