Tampa relaxes rules on distributing food to homeless

By Dalia Dangerfield, Reporter
Last Updated: Thursday, March 16, 2017, 6:07 PM EDT

The City of Tampa is relaxing existing rules on feeding the homeless in public spaces.

  • Previously, a permit was necessary to hand out food in city parks
  • Volunteers arrested in January for passing out food in Gaslight Park
  • New rule limits number of volunteers to 50

Thursday, Tampa City Council members approved changes that will allow groups to pass out food in city parks without a permit or insurance.

“Our goal here is for compassion so that folks can feed the homeless for fear without having legal problems,” Tampa Councilman Luis Viera said.

The change follows an incident in January during which volunteers with Food Not Bombs were arrested for distributing food to homeless people at Gaslight Park in downtown Tampa. The arrests were prompted by the group not having a permit to hold the event and thus were violating a city ordinance in proceeding with the event.

“I believe the city is trying to move in a positive direction away from criminalization of sharing food with people who are experiencing homelessness and that should be applauded," Food Not Bombs volunteer Jimmy Dunson said. “I believe the city still has a long way to go toward policies that accept compassion.”

One stipulation of the new ordinance does have volunteer groups and some council members concerned: No more than 50 people can attend food handout events. Previously, events hosting more than 25 people in a city park required a permit.

“I think somewhere we’re going to have a problem, because we have a designated number attached to it,” Councilman Frank Reddick said.

City council members will review the ordinance in six months to assess whether it’s working.