Homeless crisis: Tempe denies event permit for picnic organizers

A Phoenix area nonprofit is being stopped from hosting weekly picnics for the homeless at a park in Tempe.

On Jan. 19, officials with Tempe's city government issued a statement, stating that the special event permit request made by AZ Hugs for the Houseless has been denied.

"By denying the application, AZ Hugs will not be able to apply for a special event permit to hold an event for a year," read a portion of the statement.

In the statement, Tempe city officials said the group applied for a permit in December 2023, and accused them of continuing to violate a city ordinance, citing that as a factor in the city's ultimate decision on the matter.

"While City of Tempe staff has met with the group in hopes of finding compassionate solutions, AZ Hugs continues to violate City Code 5-2 by holding unpermitted food events. This is in repeated defiance of numerous written and verbal notifications about the need for a permit," read a portion of the statement. "City staff has made multiple attempts to notify the organization of this decision. No one has responded to calls."

City officials also allege that AZ Hugs' weekly events have "prompted ongoing complaints from nearby residents."

"Several residents asked city leadership at the Jan. 11 City Council meeting to address unsanctioned special events in parks, citing safety concerns, excessive trash, hazards such as hypodermic needles, improper use of ramadas, environmental impacts and conflicts with properly permitted events," read a portion of Tempe's statement on the permit denial.\

Non-profit founder speaks out

We spoke with the non-profit's founder on Jan. 19, who said it is disappointing, but that it is not going to stop him from feeding the homeless.

"It's a community safe space, resource exchange," said Austin Davis. "We serve three to five courses of food and just come together, be together, share a meal."

Davis said his organization focuses on giving resources and food to those in need.

"We help people get connected to a variety of supportive services like detox, rehab, shelter. We help families with kids facing homelessness," said Davis.

Davis responded to some of Tempe's accusations.

"They've definitely told me 'don't do your picnics during the 60 days they said it would take to review the application,'" said Davis. "We were pretty clear with them there's no other real options to get food in the City of Tempe like that, so I think as a community, it's our responsibility to step up for each other, and provide that service."

As for allegations that a mess was left behind after the picnics, Davis said they stay late to pick up all the trash.

"When you have nowhere else to go, and you're overwhelmed, and you don't know what to do, it helps to have a community around you that can help you figure out those problems and take it one step at a time," said Davis, who went on to say he is expecting to get a citation on Jan. 21.

Davis said he got one the last time he hosted a picnic.