Tempe denies permit for nonprofit group offering free picnics for unhoused people

Jan 24, 2024, 4:25 AM

AZ Hugs was denied a special event permit by Tempe. (AZ Hugs Photo)...

AZ Hugs was denied a special event permit by Tempe. (AZ Hugs Photo)

(AZ Hugs Photo)

PHOENIX — Tempe has denied a permit for a nonprofit group that offers free picnics for unhoused people, citing problems with trash and leftover drug paraphernalia.

The East Valley city voted 5-2 to nix the special permit AZ Hugs wanted for its Sunday Family Picnic event, which it holds at a park near Mill Avenue and Curry Road,, Tempe said Tuesday in a press release.

AZ Hugs won’t be able to apply for a special event performance for a year because of the denial.

“All public open space used for events, whether hosted by a nonprofit organization, resident or business, requires a special event permit,” Greg Ruiz, interim deputy city manager, said in the release. “No person or organization is above city code, regardless of the type of event being held.”

What’s next for AZ Hugs’ picnic event?

The move comes a month after Tempe leaders asked AZ Hugs to postpone the event due to safety concerns. The organization applied for the permit but has continued hosting the event, which provides resources such as food and connections to shelters.

Kelli Cholieu, founder of nonprofit Clean Up Papago, said there has been an increase in drug paraphernalia and other trash in the park following the events.

“Our organization has picked up uncapped, used syringes in children’s playground areas. We don’t feel safe enjoying our parks and preserves in this beautiful city,” Cholieu said in the release.

AZ Hugs said in December it believed its organization was being “targeted unjustly.” The nonprofit said at that time it would continue the event regardless of Tempe’s decision.

Tempe said multiple efforts to notify AZ Hugs of its decision have been unsuccessful.

“Our picnic has value and means something to a lot of people,” the organization said in a post. “We will continue.”

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Tempe denies permit for nonprofit group offering free picnics for unhoused people