Homeless Agency Successfully Sues Tampa for the Right to Solicit Funds Downtown

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August 15, 2016; OneNewsNow

Nonprofits facing what they consider unreasonable restrictions by local government sometimes must take matters to court if they cannot work things out through the political process. This has proven true even just in the narrow area of panhandling or street fundraising where local ordinances have been challenged again and again.

A nonprofit serving the homeless primarily with emergency shelter and supplies in Tampa, Florida, had to fight City Hall so it would be able to raise money on city streets, according to OneNewsNow, a nonprofit Christian news website.

Homeless Helping Homeless (HHH) is funded entirely by private donations. The nonprofit’s corporate executives, administrators, and support staff are themselves homeless clients of the organization. They solicit donations in downtown Tampa and they raise support through their own social enterprise projects, such as a café, a thrift store, a junk removal service, and a mobile check cashing service. They are also selling their trademarked “Burger Dog Pan” that is manufactured and distributed by the Love Cooking Company. The city objects to their style of street level solicitations, considering it panhandling. The organization has had a fraught relationship with the city—some of its facilities and programs have been closed by the city due to building and business code violations.

The executive director of the nonprofit told OneNewsNow that his organization was faced with various city restrictions “that other organizations in the city didn’t have to contend with.” One example he gave was that while other groups could solicit every day in the city’s streets, Homeless Helping Homeless could only do so one day per week.

He claims that the restrictions were there “because the big boys—the banks and so forth—don’t really want us downtown. […] They tried to use other means because we’re legal and we have all the necessary licenses.”

The restrictions he reported included prohibitions on holding up signs or proactively asking for donations from passersby. So the nonprofit filed a federal lawsuit claiming their free speech rights were being violated and that they were being barred from doing what others were permitted to do, after failing to work out a solution with city officials.

The court ruled in favor of the homeless operation. It can now solicit donations in downtown Tampa.—Larry Kaplan