Ordinance on feeding homeless in Tampa could soon change

- A city ordinance that led to seven volunteers getting arrested for feeding the homeless without a permit could soon change.

On Thursday, Tampa City Council members proposed drafting a new ordinance that would be similar to an ordinance in place in St. Petersburg.

Instead of requiring groups to have a city permit and liability insurance to distribute food to the public, the city is considering allowing food handouts, permit-free, as long as the activity draws no more than 50 people.

"We have certain safety conditions and rules in order to make sure that your use of the park doesn't disturb other people's use of the park," said Council Chairman Mike Suarez.

Suarez said the current ordinance is not about preventing people from feeding the homeless, but rather, maintaining order in public parks. He said when large, unplanned activities are held, it prevents others from using the public facility.

On January 7, seven volunteers with "Food Not Bombs" we're 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.

The city attorney dropped the charges against everyone arrested, including Dezeray Lyn, who said she is pleased that the city is considering the change.

"We won't have police interruption in what we're doing, so in that sense it's easier [to serve the homeless]. It's necessary to do the work, but we're hoping that they make changes, so that there are less people on the streets," said Lyn.

The proposed ordinance must now be drafted and voted on by city Council. To public readings are required before a new ordinance can become law.

A representative with Mayor Bob Buckhorn's office said on Friday that he could not comment on his stance on any proposed changes, since a new ordinance has not yet been drafted.

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