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Lakeland to restrict groups feeding people who are homeless at city parks

<i>WFTS</i><br/>Lakeland leaders are asking groups to stop feeding people who are homeless in public spaces.
Lakeland leaders are asking groups to stop feeding people who are homeless in public spaces.

By Rebecca Petit

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    POLK COUNTY, Florida (WFTS) — Lakeland leaders are asking groups to stop feeding people who are homeless in public spaces.

Live music, festivals and farmer’s markets can happen any day at Lakeland’s Munn Park. It’s also a meet-up spot for people experiencing homelessness.

“I’m here probably five days a week,” said Kenny Krebs.

Krebs spends most of his day on the park bench, not knowing where his next meal will come from.

“We depend on them to come out here and feed us,” Krebs said.

Krebs talks about the various organizations that come to Munn Park weekly to feed the homeless.

“A lot of people would go hungry, and they would not have anything to eat, and they would starve,” Krebs said.

Lakeland Mutual Aid said the need is great. The group serves food to as many as 120 people every Sunday at Munn Park.

“A combination of people who are unhoused, combination of downtown workers who aren’t being paid enough to pay for the meals that they serve everybody else. It’s a combination of people that are just working poor,” said Katie Smith with Lakeland Mutual Aid.

Nearby business owners said although feeding the hungry is charitable, they are left to clean up the mess.

“These folks are using alleyways and door fronts as public bathrooms instead of utilizing the facilities that are nearby,” said Julie Townsend, director of Lakeland Downtown Development Authority.

City leaders are now drafting a new law restricting food-sharing in the city’s parks to deter people struggling with homelessness from gathering there.

Those who advocate for the homeless hope the city will find a resolution that will benefit everyone, including those who might need help the most.

“I think it would have a devasting impact on the community as a whole. Just poor people in general, people on fixed income, we bridge a gap that the city isn’t,” Smith said.

The regulations must be voted on and approved by the city commission before taking effect.

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