As It Happens

Florida activists continue to feed homeless, despite arrests by police

The group Tampa Food Not Bombs are defiant after police enforce an ordinance that prohibits them from feeding homeless people in a park without a permit. Volunteer Jimmy Dunson speaks with guest host Helen Mann.
Volunteers with Tampa Food Not Bombs are defiant as police have decided to enforce an ordinance that prohibits them from feeding homeless people in a park without a permit. (Anthony Martino/Tampa Food Not Bombs/Facebook)

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No good deed goes unpunished.

Over the weekend, volunteers were giving food to homeless people in a park in Tampa, Florida — and for that, they were arrested. The non-profit group Food Not Bombs has been feeding the hungry twice a week for several years. But the city has now decided to enforce an ordinance that requires them to have a permit to do so.
Jimmy Dunson, left, and other members of Tampa Food Not Bombs, were arrested on the weekend for handing out food to homeless people. (Anthony Martino/Tampa Food Not Bombs/Facebook)

Charges are pending, but that didn't stop the volunteers from heading back to the park Tuesday morning to serve more food.

Jimmy Dunson is one of the group's organizers who was arrested. He spoke with As It Happens guest host Helen Mann about why he is determined to continue serving the homeless until the city changes the ordinance. Here is part of their conversation.
Helen Mann: Mr. Dunson, why do you think Tampa police are cracking down on you and the members of your group for feeding homeless people?

Jimmy Dunson: This is actually a pattern all across the United States. Cities are cracking down on people sharing food with the hungry and houseless. One week ago, we had our regular food share, like we always have on Tuesday mornings, and our volunteers were detained. In that experience, one of the volunteers was talking to people that are experiencing homelessness that we have come to form relationships with. They had told us that the city, the police, had been telling them to disappear for two weeks.

HM: What happened when you were back out there today?

JD: We have our regular food shares. Tuesday mornings at 8:00 a.m. and Saturdays at 4:00 p.m. We've had these food shares for years in downtown Lykes Gaslight Park. Since there were seven arrests last Saturday, we've had an outpouring of support, internationally and locally. People locally actually surrounded us as we shared food.
It's a compassionate act. It's a kind act to share with marginalized communities. It's not something that should be policed and criminalized.- Jimmy Dunson
HM: They surrounded you today?

JD: Yes. Supporters held hands and created a wall around us preventing the police from coming in and arresting us and stop our food share. Everybody was able to get their fill of coffee and pie, vegan pizza, fresh fruit, salad and the hygiene items that we had.
(Anthony Martino/Tampa Food Not Bombs/Facebook)

HM: Now you and the other six people who were arrested last week, what kind of charges do you potentially face?

JD: Trespassing, trespassing after a warning, trespassing on public property.
HM: Have you sought any legal advice? Do you have any concerns that you might actually be found guilty?

JD: I've actually been arrested for this a handful of times before. In 2004, I was arrested for this a couple of times in Tampa. The city eventually dropped the charges and agreed to stop enforcing it and change the ordinance. I do have faith that the city is going to do the right thing. It's a compassionate act. It's a kind act to share with marginalized communities. It's not something that should be policed and criminalized.
(Anthony Martino/Tampa Food Not Bombs/Facebook)

HM: I understand that the city of Tampa says that if you're going to do this kind of thing you need to apply for a permit and that they have insurance concerns. Do you think there is any value to their worries?

JD: I don't believe there is any validity to the city's claims about a permit. What the people experiencing homelessness are worried about is the next meal, finding a job or having a friend to talk to. Those survival needs are paramount. This idea of acting permission and needed a stamp of approval from the city is just absurd. They want insurance. It doesn't even apply to us though, this permit process. It applies to special events, corporate luncheons, vendors and things like that — we're none of that.

HM: So I trust that you will be back at that park on Saturday.

JD: Yes, we will.

HM: And how do you hope this will ultimately be resolved?

JD: The city is going to drop the charges and change the ordinance. I have faith in that. The city will do the right thing. Justice wins out in the end — love wins.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. For more on this story, listen to our full interview with Jimmy Dunson.