Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.

City of Tempe now requiring special events permit for AZ Hugs For the Houseless

A spokesperson for the city of Tempe said the requirement for the permit was due to the size of the group's food distribution events, which are normally held at Tempe Beach Park

221002 Austin Davis5.jpg

Austin Davis walks donations from a car to where all donations are staged behind the Salvation Army in Tempe on Sunday, Oct. 2 2022. 

For the past two years, AZ Hugs For the Houseless has welcomed people to grab a meal, sit down and eat like a family at its Sunday Family Picnics. Now, the city of Tempe is requiring the organization to apply for a special events permit, and the organization is working to adjust. 

AZ Hugs, an initiative of Arizona Jews For Justice, serves five courses of meals at Tempe Beach Park from 3 to 5 p.m. on Sundays while also providing resources to those who need them. Since the requirement from the city of Tempe, given on Sept. 23, AZ Hugs founder and ASU alumnus Austin Davis had to find a new way to continue the event.

AZ Hugs decided to make the family picnic on Sept. 25 mobile, as a temporary solution. The organization went to multiple parks, alleys, bus stops and gas stations to serve prepackaged meals along with a hug and a conversation.

The organization was created because, according to Davis, no matter what someone is going through during their week, they could look forward to enjoying a shared meal on Sunday.

"It was really difficult because we had to try to find a new space, you know, on a private property in this really short amount of time," Davis said. "We're just taking it week by week."

The application fee for the permit required to continue operation as usual is $50. From there, fees increase depending on the size of the event, location and more. The permit is required to be applied for 60 days before the event and there is a $100 permit fee per day.

Susie Steckner, a public information officer for Tempe, said that the requirement for a special events permit is due to the size of AZ Hugs' food distribution events.

"These used to be smaller events that had smaller impacts on nearby neighborhoods," Steckner said. "These are now larger events serving more than 200 individuals each week, creating larger impacts on neighborhoods."

Steckner said in addition to the size of events, the city is concerned over potential security issues. Anyone who wants to hold a public event in a Tempe public venue and whose event affects private or public property must file for a permit, she said.

"The city has a long history of collaborating with nonprofit and community groups," Steckner said. "We are committed to deepening those relationships to explore new approaches to serving those in need."

Kevin Kansas, a volunteer who runs the kitchen for AZ Hugs, said he thinks the requirement of the special events permit is purely political. Kansas said that due to safety reasons, the city has recently kicked houseless people out of the Salt River bed near Tempe Town Lake.

In response to claims about political motivations, Steckner referenced a city of Tempe press release from Aug. 31 about the move to prohibit people from residing in the Salt River bed.

"The consequences of that was there were people experiencing homelessness just wandering all over Tempe again," Kansas said. "So a bunch of people complained not about the homelessness, but that they could see the homelessness."

"Tempe believes that no one should live in unhealthy and unsafe conditions, and the city respects the rights and personal property of unsheltered people," the press release said. "As the number of unsheltered people across the region has grown and Tempe Fire Medical Rescue calls for service in the area have increased, the city intensified outreach and actions to help people into safer living conditions."

Enforcement began Sept. 12, with citations or arrests for people found trespassing and remaining in the area beyond seven days.

After going mobile, AZ Hugs landed a temporary location at The Salvation Army parking lot in downtown Tempe for the weekly family picnic.

Davis plans to apply for a special events permit, but said he is taking it one step at a time.

"We're not stopping, we're just adjusting," Davis said.

Edited by Jasmine Kabiri, David Rodish, Sophia Balasubramanian and Greta Forslund.

Reach the reporter at and follow @byandrearamirez on Twitter.

Like The State Press on Facebook and follow @statepress on Twitter.

Andrea RamirezCommunity Reporter

Andrea Ramirez is a part-time reporter at The State Press. She has previously worked for The State Press for Spring ‘23. 

Continue supporting student journalism and donate to The State Press today.

Subscribe to Pressing Matters



This website uses cookies to make your experience better and easier. By using this website you consent to our use of cookies. For more information, please see our Cookie Policy.