A table set up in Kennedy Plaza to distribute needed supplies to the homeless sat empty for over five hours Tuesday morning because the police claimed that not having a permit, or being affiliated with a religious group, made such charity illegal. Religious groups are in Kennedy Plaza and Burnside Park nearly every weekend and many week days.
Artemis, a member of Occupy Providence, arrived at the Plaza between 7 and 8am with supplies donated by Bikers United Disaster Relief Teams. She had blankets, jackets, underwear, socks, Halloween candy, water and toiletries available to anyone who needed them. According to Artemis, two officers in a squad car watched her and her husband unpack the car and watched as her husband drive off before approaching her to tell her that she needed a permit.
When Artemis pointed out that religious groups are always in Kennedy Plaza or nearby Burnside Park doing such work, she was basically told that the rules are different for religious organizations.
Artemis told the officers that she had permission to do this kind of work in the past from Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré. The officers told her she would have to wait for the Commissioner to drive by and approve her efforts before she could proceed, and if she gave out any supplies before that, she would be arrested, said Artemis. So she waited.
Meanwhile, all the supplies she brought to distribute remained stored away in large plastic bins under the table, and she accepted donations from passersby for the possible purchase of a permit, though she had no idea how much a permit might be or what kind of permit would be required.
Shortly before noon Commissioner Paré showed up and after a brief, private discussion with Artemis and a hug, the commissioner approved the table and told Artemis that he would tell his officers that she had permission. He did not stay long enough to answer any questions from the press.