TAMPA (FOX 13) - An ordinance banning panhandling in parts of Tampa was ruled unconstitutional by a District Court judge on Friday.
Under Ordinance 2013-95, soliciting money in areas including parts of downtown Tampa, Ybor City, bus and trolley stops was banned. Tampa City Council hoped to create a zone, particularly in tourist areas, where people could be free from solicitation.
For homeless advocate Adolphus Parker, the ordinance was not only crippling to his organization, Homeless Helping Homeless, but also unfairly targeting the homeless out of all solicitors.
"What you're saying is that one group has the right to speak to the public, whether it's a religious organization, or someone wanting to petition and take signatures. It's fine for them to say that, but we can't say, 'would you like to make a donation?' I just felt that it wasn't right." said Parker.
Parker founded Homeless Helping Homeless in Tampa in 2009 to offer emergency shelter to the homeless. The organization is operated by the same clients he houses. Parker said their form of fundraising was taking to street corners to solicit drivers for donations, but under the city ordinance, that was no longer possible.
In his lawsuit, Parker said the organization lost "tens of thousands of dollars" and was forced to reduce services because of their inability to fundraise.
"The frustration comes from the fact that we cannot help people when they're crying out," said Parker.
After a year of litigation, a judge ruled on Friday that soliciting "donations and payments" is a form of speech, protected under the First Amendment.
Parker said his homeless clients plan to return to the streets of Tampa to ask for donations as soon as possible.
Fox 13 reached out to Tampa City Attorney Julia Mandell on Friday. She said the city is still analyzing the decision and deciding how to proceed. She said she could not comment further, because the case was still considered to be ongoing litigation.
Parker said that while some may consider it an eye sore to see the homeless on city street corners, it is inhumane to try to fix the problem of homelessness in the city by pushing them out of sight.
"You can't stop that freedom of speech, because it makes you uncomfortable. It just doesn't work that way," said Parker.