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Tampa City Council relaxes rules on serving food to homeless

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

The Tampa City Council is altering regulations on public feedings in city parks, two months after the arrest of seven Food Not Bombs members, which created national headlines.

The new ordinance allows groups to offer food without having to get a permit or insurance for feedings that attract fewer than 50 people.

Councilman Frank Reddick voted with his colleagues to support the proposal but said he worried that the ordinance could create a situation where Tampa Police officers will be spending time counting how many people are at such events.

“I will assure you that there are going to be more than 50 people going through that distribution line, and there’s going to be more than 50 people gathering in a designated area wherever they choose to be,” he said. “Because the word’s going to spread. I don’t want law enforcement to have to wear a camera, or some kind of meter, to say there’s 25, 26, 27 … there’s going to be a problem.”

City Attorney Rebecca Kert told the council that the ordinance is based on a similar law in St. Petersburg that appears to be working, though she said she was amenable to any changes.

“Is 50 the right number?” she said. “It’s certainly the right starting point.”

On January 7, seven volunteers with “Food Not Bombs” were arrested in Lykes Gaslight Park in downtown Tampa for handing out food to the homeless after being warned by the city in advance that they would need a permit. It occurred two days before the national college football playoff championship was held a few miles away at Raymond James Stadium.

Ten days later, Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren dropped the charges against everyone arrested, saying, “prosecuting people for charitable work does not further that mission and is an inefficient use of government resources.”

Dezeray Lyn was one of those Food Not Bombs members arrested in January. She called on the council to adopt “Housing First” policies that would work on addressing issues of the homeless in Tampa.

“There’s hunger, poverty and houselessness in Tampa,” Lyn said. “Please let’s address those issues now.”

“Our goal is to feed the homeless without fear of legal problems,” said Councilman Luis Viera. “We’re meeting people in the middle, and we have faith that we’ll be met in the middle as well.”

The Council will revisit the ordinance in six months.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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