Members of the activist group Food Not Bombs say they will not be deterred from attempting to feed the homeless in Tampa, a day after seven of its members were arrested in Lykes Gaslight Park for trying to do just that.
The arrests for public feeding wihout a permit occurred around approximately 4:00 p.m. on Saturday after Tampa Police Department officers gave the members a warning that they would be apprehended if they didn’t cease their efforts.
The incident took place as thousands of people from around the nation descend on Tampa for Monday night’s college football national championship game.
A crowdfunding website created to raise legal defense funds for those arrested on Saturday had raised $2,670 as of 2:30 p.m. Sunday afternoon.
TPD says FNB was in violation of City Ordinance 16.43, which states that, “No person shall conduct any activity or utilize any department managed land in a manner which will result in commercial activity, as defined in this chapter, or provide for the distribution or sampling of any materials, merchandise, food, and/or beverages to the general public, without prior written approval from the department.”
TPD spokesman Stephen Hegarty emphatically denies the suggestion that the city/police department doesn’t want groups like FNB to feed the homeless, particular during this week. He says the problem is simply that they didn’t get a permit to do so.
“This group, despite a warning, very, very made it clear that, yes, you’re telling us that we can do that, but we can’t do that by setting up tables and chairs and basically setting up shop in the middle of the park. We’re going to do it anyway,” he said Sunday. “That’s the problem here.”
However, Gururas Khalsa, a member of Tampa Food Not Bombs, calls the permitting process “a maze of paperwork requiring insurance.”
“It’s supposed to be for ‘special events,'” she says. “We’re there twice a week. We’d have to submit for each time we show up. It is a paperwork nightmare. It’s for big events. It doesn’t fit what we’re doing.”
This isn’t the first time that the police have cracked down on public feedings of the homeless in the Bob Buckhorn administration. Months into his first term in 2011, police stopped a group who had been feeding the homeless for six years. Buckhorn’s predecessor, Pam Iorio, had her own run-ins with Food Not Bombs back in 2004, when the group fed the homeless at Herman Massey Park.
The TPD’s Stephen Hegarty also wants it known that none of the seven people arrested on Saturday were jailed.
“We walked them over to our parking garage. Got their names, got their contact information. Gave them the court date, and everybody went home,” he said.
Officials with Food Not Bombs say they intend to again offer a public feeding in the park this coming Tuesday at 8 a.m.
Video below via Facebook/Chris Regalado.