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Florida Activists Arrested Again for Feeding the Homeless

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By George Khoury, Esq. on January 11, 2017 2:57 PM

Seven members of a non-profit organization in Tampa, Florida, with a mission of feeding the homeless were arrested last week for feeding the homeless, again. The organization, Food Not Bombs, has gotten in trouble regularly for this exact problem, like many other individuals and small groups that seek to make an immediate impact by feeding the homeless. In Tampa, in order to legally serve or share food in a public park, a group must obtain a special permit to do so. Technically, the group's members were arrested for not obtaining that special permit.

In Orlando, half a decade ago, the same group faced this exact same issue of a local ordinance requiring a permit to feed the homeless in a public park. The court reasoned that because the restriction imposed by the city was reasonable in time, place, and manner, that there was no constitutional violation.

Is It Illegal to Feed the Homeless?

Generally, it is not illegal to feed the homeless, otherwise every soup kitchen or homeless shelter would face some serious legal challenges to existing. However, there may be restrictions on how you can go about feeding the homeless because of stated concerns over public safety and legal liability. Restrictions generally fall into two categories, either restrictions on where food can be given out, or requiring special permitting to give away food.

One of the complaints of activist organizations about requiring permits to feed the homeless is the cost of meeting the requirements. Typically, to get a permit, local governments require event insurance, which can significantly drive up costs. Additionally, there may be costs simply to obtain the permit, or other costs, such as requiring portable restrooms be provided.

Penalties for Illegal Feeding

While it seems outlandish that a person would be punished for feeding the homeless, the consequences don't simply end with arrest. In addition to being charged with a crime, in some jurisdictions, a person could actually have to pay significant fines, or even face time in jail.

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