RALEIGH — The mayor and a city councilwoman pledged Sunday to find a solution after police barred charitable groups from feeding the homeless in downtown Raleigh’s Moore Square during the weekend.
In the last month or so, police have been telling these volunteers to pack up their buffet tables, slow cookers and coolers or face being arrested. A city ordinance prohibits individuals or groups from distributing food in city parks without a permit.
Mayor Nancy McFarlane and City Council member Mary-Ann Baldwin said Sunday afternoon that a council committee will address the matter this week and that city leaders had not been involved in the decision to end the weekend food distribution.
The issue came to a head this weekend when a police officer told Love Wins Ministries founder Hugh Hollowell not to hand out breakfast biscuits on Saturday morning, as his group has done every weekend for the last six years. Hollowell, whose blog post about the incident went viral via social media, was back Sunday morning speaking to the media about being shut down.
“The city has no provision for these people being fed on Saturdays or Sundays,” Hollowell explained. “I’m going to eat today, but my friends who live outside aren’t going to be so lucky.”
In a statement released Sunday, Raleigh police spokesman Jim Sughrue wrote, “No arrests were made in connection with the feeding activity; people were simply informed of a city ordinance that prohibits the actions some groups have been engaged in at the park. Work is ongoing with those involved, some of whom are developing alternative sites.”
Later in the day, McFarlane released a statement saying neither she nor the City Council were involved in the decision.
“Raleigh is a progressive city that believes in the values of each of its citizens,” McFarlane said. “We are so fortunate to have dedicated citizens that want to reach out to those in need. We will be taking this issue into the Law and Public Safety Committee immediately to bring all the partners together for a transparent discussion to work out a plan to address the questions surrounding this issue.”
Baldwin, who chairs that committee, said Sunday: “I feel horrible that this happened. I want to find a solution that is collaborative so that we’re doing the smart thing as well as the right thing.”
During the week, Shepherd’s Table Soup Kitchen in downtown Raleigh serves lunch to the hungry, and the Salvation Army, which has relocated just north of downtown in a building on Capital Boulevard, serves dinner.
Since neither of those groups serves meals on the weekends, several charities and churches stepped up to serve hot meals and bagged lunches, often setting up on the sidewalk alongside Moore Square.
One person who depends on these meals is Raheem Andrews, who has been a regular at the Love Wins breakfasts since 2009.
“Personally, I have somewhere to lay my head, but that doesn’t mean I have food in my kitchen all the time,” Andrews explained. “I understand downtown is getting bigger. I feel like they are trying to flush us out and get rid of the riff-raff. I don’t know where they’re going to run us to.”
Hollowell’s nonprofit is one of several that have been informed by police officers in recent weeks that such philanthropy is no longer allowed on the sidewalk along the city park.
Church in the Woods founder Alice McGee was told by police to stop in mid-July, and for several weeks her group was serving meals in the parking lot of the Salvation Army building, across the street from Moore Square.
Last year, the City Council decided to purchase the former Salvation Army headquarters for $2.1 million as part of a broader redevelopment effort on the eastern side of Moore Square.
Late last week, McGee and Hollowell say, city officials notified them that the land sale was complete and their charities could no longer use the parking lot as a staging area to feed the homeless.
“We were kicked out yesterday with no notice,” said McGee, whose group serves 1,500 meals a week all over Wake County. “We would love the city to make some suggestions on where would be a more appropriate place.”
Late Sunday morning, another outreach group called Human Beans Together scrambled to set up lunch in a nearby parking lot, owned by McLaurin Parking, and outside Mo’s Diner.
Volunteer Todd Pratt said he had tried to contact the lot’s owners late Friday to get permission to use it beforehand but instead paid for the parking spaces they used.
While lunch was being served, a Raleigh police officer stopped by to tell Pratt and other organizers that Bill McLaurin, the lot’s owner, was on his way to speak to them. A few minutes later, McLaurin arrived and had a conversation with Pratt and other organizers.
Afterward, McLaurin told reporters that another group has permission to use the lot to feed the homeless.
McLaurin said he was willing to talk to the Human Beans Together folks about using the lot, but added that the group will have to arrange for liability insurance in case someone gets injured on the property when they are using it.