Compromise in the works for feeding the homeless

The City of Tampa and a group that regularly feeds the homeless is working on a compromise after volunteers from the group were arrested for feeding homeless people in a downtown park without a permit.

Saturday the group, Food Not Bombs, hosted another free meal in Lykes Gaslight Park, this time there were no arrests.

Last weekend, seven volunteers from Food Not Bombs were arrested after they defied Tampa Police orders to dismantle the food distribution operation.

The city says the group was warned repeatedly and is choosing confrontation instead of other alternatives. One such alternative involves moving the meal to the Salvation Army which has offered to host the group.

Food Not Bombs believes the initial crackdown came only as city officials realized the food sharing was going to happen downtown where tourists in for the College Football Playoff Championship could see it. Both Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Tampa Police deny that's why members of the group were arrested.

TPD spokesman Steve Hegarty said police let the group feed the homeless in the park because they are working on a compromise that would end the tensions.

Buckhorn told the Tampa Bay Times Friday the public food distribution was "an improper use" of the park. His spokeswoman Ashley Bauman told FOX 13 the city's main concern is food safety and following permitting guidelines. According to a city ordinance, any group must apply for a permit to distribute food in a city-owned park.

Food Not Bombs member Gururas Khalsa says the group shouldn't need a permit for a public park. The group points to other cities like St. Petersburg that allow the same group to feed the homeless in its city parks.
Khalsa and other group members call the city's crackdown, "criminalizing compassion." "We have been criminalized for sharing food with people and having picnics in the park," said Khalsa.

The mayor's office and TPD say they are working with city council to come up with a compromise to end the tensions.

Evan Lambert
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