What happens when a city tries to rebuild its image by sweeping its
problems under a rug?
In Tampa, Florida, the homeless and their supporters feel the pressure.
On March 21, three activists were arrested at downtown Massey Park for giving away food to the hungry. The arrestees were members of Food Not Bombs, an organization that has served in the area for more than 10 years. Despite the
Sunday afternoon ritual’s longstanding presence – it had never been interrupted before – police decided to enforce permit requirements stipulating that city parks are off limits for food distribution.
The change of heart reflects the city’s attempts at dealing with its growing problem
of homelessness. But instead of focusing on the causes of the problem, city officials
seem more concerned with the negative images attached to homelessness.
“We can’t have one activity having a chilling effect on others in the park, and feeding the homeless is not an appropriate activity,” said the city’s liaison for homelessness issues, Fran Davin, in an interview with the St. Petersburg Times.
Community activists see it differently.
“We’ve been serving here for so long and haven’t had a problem,” says Claudia Wald, a Food Not Bombs member who was working in the park the day the arrests were made, “[Mayor Pam] Iorio is trying to clean up the city, but she’s not putting out any effort to fix the problem. We’re exposing the homeless problem.”
The three arrested volunteers, Mark Parish, Jimmy Dunson, and Lily Lewis, were charged with trespassing and are set to appear in court.
Despite the harassment, Food Not Bombs organizers have vowed to continue their work at Massey Park. Since the incident, they havetwice fed people at the regular time, each without police involvement.
“This last week we had a really big turnout,” says Wald. “I get the idea the cops think it’s bad publicity to arrest us with media there.”
FOOD IS A RIGHT, NOT A PRIVILEGE
Formed in 1980 by activists in Massachusetts, Food Not Bombs is an all-volunteer organization with hundreds of autonomous chapters worldwide. Participating members make hot vegetarian meals out of food that would otherwise likely be discarded, and freely distribute it to anyone in need.
Food Not Bombs will hold a Rustbelt gathering in Cleveland, Ohio, from April 29 – May 1.
A proposed gathering in New York City for Aug. 25-27 has been cancelled. For more information, visit: http://www.fnbnews.org KITCHEN’S CLOSED: