In Tampa, Food Not Bombs Activists Arrested For Feeding Homeless—Again

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Above Photo: Two activists with Food Not Bombs are handcuffed after they defied police orders to stop feeding the homeless in a downtown Tampa public park.Anthony Martino

Temperatures were dipping into unfriendly territory Saturday afternoon as sports fans flocked to the events at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.

At nearby Lykes Gaslight Park, members of Tampa’s homeless community were gathered for hot coffee and bagels, courtesy of the group Food Not Bombs.

There were no altercations, no illicit substances, no bad behavior—unless you count that, according to the City of Tampa, that coffee and bagels were illegal.


Because you have to have a special permit in order to offer free food to the needy in city parks. But obtaining a city permit to feed the homeless twice a week—to set up a table and open bags of chips and bagels and spoon organic beans and rice from a pot—can be pricey because of the insurance policy the city requires.

Given how often they do it (homeless people have to eat frequently, too), that can add up.

Volunteers with Food Not Bombs knew their actions were technically illegal. They had been warned about it earlier in the week.

And they did it anyway.

A volunteer serves food as police linger nearby.Anthony Martino

A volunteer serves food as police linger nearby.Anthony Martino

As a result, seven people were arrested. For feeding hungry people in a park.

Some were arrested still wearing the plastic gloves with which they served food.

When police arrived on the scene, they gave the activists three minutes to stop feeding those in need.

Then, they moved in, pulling the volunteers away as they continued to serve.

“Please help yourselves,” one could be heard saying to those still gathered as he was dragged off.

A man who reached for a last-minute bagel was also arrested. (Watch a video of the arrests, courtesy of Erin Sauer, below).

Anthony Martino

Anthony Martino

In an email sent to press Saturday night, the group said it “has no plans to stop sharing food with the homeless and hungry and will continue to defy unjust laws that criminalize compassion and mutual aid.”

That includes a planned gathering Tuesday at 8 a.m. in the same location.

“We intend to expose the city’s cruelty in the face of thousands in our community who are struggling with issues of food insecurity, mental and medical health issues, poverty, and homelessness,” a spokesperson for the group said in an email. “If the city will not address these problems, the least they can do is not get in the way and stop others from addressing these needs. Compassion should never be criminalized.


This isn’t the first time activists with the group have been arrested for feeding the homeless, and Food Not Bombs isn’t the only group to have been arrested in Tampa for feeding the homeless. Also, Tampa is not the only city in Florida in which it’s illegal to feed the homeless without proper paperwork.

In Tampa, the group said it has done the same thing in the same park over 100 times with no trouble, and some suspect it has something to do with the College Football Playoff National Championship and related events taking place in Tampa throughout the weekend.

Carly Rae Zent contributed to this report.


  • glenn

    These same permit/ insurance laws have been on the books for several years in Philadelphia. I fought against these when first piloted 15 years ago, in support of the UPenn gentrification of West Philly. After Occupy Philly was brutalized, the laws were quietly extended to all public space and parks.
    Please understand, these laws make almost everything illegal on formerly public parks, without a permit/insurance. Control over public space was transferred by the democratic administration here, to corporate front groups, which can give waivers of the fees to their cronies. But all grassroots gatherings are priced out and now illegal. Corporate media in Philadelphia cannot be trusted to report arrests, so it’s difficult to know how many arrests occur, but the intimidation itself stops virtually all groups lacking corporate sponsors. The free 1 day community festival that I once organized, in a West Philly park, would cost thousands of dollars for rent, insurance, police monitors, EMS crews, etc.
    It’s part of the war against the poor, but people need to recognize that these laws also ended public parks and the 1st amendment, which doesn’t apply on privatized land. Philadelphia parks are now corporate controlled rental venues. The quasi-privatized status allows continuing transfers of taxpayer money to the corporate front groups, while stripping the public from all decision making and ending public rights. The site of Occupy Philly, at city hall, was rented to a corporate front group for $1 for 30 years. It’s been turned into a shopping plaza. Water jets have already been used against protesters, at the beginning of the movement against police brutality. The CEO of the “special service district” used the lack of permits to justify the assault.
    Many thanks to Food Not Bombs! People need to recognize that this is simply one example, highlighting that we no longer have public parks or a functioning 1st amendment, unless we fight to take them back.

  • DHFabian

    Our war on the poor was brought to fruition some 20 years ago, by the Clinton administration — sold to the beat of a rock and roll song. Liberals never looked back at the appalling consequences. Today’s liberals/media are pragmatic, and their priorities lie with potential donors, working class/middle class.