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Raleigh relents on permit rules for helping homeless

Posted August 28, 2013
Updated August 29, 2013

— Days after volunteers said they were threatened with arrest for feeding homeless people in Raleigh's Moore Square, a City Council committee on Wednesday agreed to allow charitable groups to feed homeless people in the historic park without a permit.

Mary Ann Baldwin, chairwoman of the council's Law and Public Safety Committee, said she expects the full council to uphold that decision when it votes on the issue, which might not happen for several weeks. In the meantime, she said, city leaders are working toward a long-term solution.

Most of the members of the council were present when about 250 people packed a public hearing Wednesday to speak out about recent enforcement of an ordinance that prohibits the distribution of food in the city's parks without a permit.

The law has been on the books since 1998, but Love Wins Ministries in Raleigh says it's been passing out meals to the homeless in Moore Square for six years without a problem. About 30 charitable groups regularly feed people at the downtown park.

Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown said she met with officers on Friday to discuss raising awareness about the ordinance and instructed them to educate volunteers about park rules.

Several volunteers said they were told several times over the weekend as they moved from the square to an empty lot near it that they would be arrested if they didn't stop passing out the food and leave the area.

The police effort at education spurred a national reaction.

"It was clear in the meeting on Friday and to those engaged in the park that no citations would be issued, no arrests would be made," Deck-Brown said.

Homeless food line City seeks compromise in Moore Square food flap

"When a large man with a gun tells me that I will not be permitted to do this and then tells me I will be arrested if I do this, I might think I'm breaking an ordinance," said Love Wins' director Rev. Hugh Hollowell.

The groups question why the law is suddenly being enforced and allege that downtown business owners want to keep homeless people from congregating in Moore Square.

Interim City Manager Perry James, however, has said the enforcement stems from a litter and rodent problem in the area.

Chief: Police never planned to arrest volunteers feeding homeless Chief: No plans to arrest volunteers feeding homeless

Deck-Brown said Wednesday that the issue also comes down to safety. Since 2011, she said, there were 3,455 calls for service at Moore Square, compared to 536 calls at another downtown green space, Nash Park, over the same time period.

"We clearly know we cannot arrest, nor do we desire to arrest, our way out of any of this," she said.

Baldwin said she thinks a compromise can be reached between the groups, police department and city leaders.

"People here have a lot of passion, but they are also reasonable and they want to do the right thing," Baldwin said. "I think we're closer than most people realize to coming up with a solution."

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  • instant_karmen Aug 30, 2:07 p.m.

    We take our services to where the need is. The need is in Moore Square. If the need is elsewhere, we go there, as well. (E.g. we also share food with camps in Garner.)

    Not to mention, both the hungry/homeless and the organizations have as much of a right to utilize Moore Square as every other citizen. If poverty and/or class differences bother you (one) that much, I urge you to get involved and work to change it instead of asking people to go where you can't see them.

  • 678devilish Aug 30, 12:15 p.m.

    Its a shame when people do not want to help the homeless. You may find yourself in that position tomorrow. You never know. Tomorrow is never promise to you.

  • Eric the Actor Aug 30, 11:58 a.m.

    I'm not against distributing food in Moore Square, but why does EVERY charity have to use Moore Square? Human Beans, Love Wins, Rescue Mission, etc. Get creative, do something original.

  • instant_karmen Aug 30, 11:32 a.m.

    Last I checked, the empty field on Bloodsworth had no one in it. Nor did it have any benches, trees, or pathways for people to sit upon, sit under, or walk on. Moore Square, meanwhile, has all of those things and it is also a good, safe area to share food with your friends and family. I know this to be true, as I'm there doing so every Sunday, with my five-year-old in tow.

    For those who are hobophobic, please consider volunteering with one of the many organizations in our community whose goal it is to help the homeless, hopeless, and hungry. Human Beans Together, Love Wins Ministries, Brown Bag Ministry--those are just a few examples.

  • map1agmachining Aug 30, 10:15 a.m.

    2 blocks away on Bloodsworth there's a empty field. Would make a good safe area for the food to be handed out.

  • jcthai Aug 30, 8:49 a.m.

    What?? And let those commie law breakers get away with passing out free food to those leeches who are destroying our economy and our very way of life? No sir. That free food should be give to the rich to help them build this country. SMH....

  • lwe1967 Aug 29, 6:37 p.m.

    Since the homeless are homeless and in most cases don't have the means to purchase food, it is good that there are organizations are out there to help. We are becoming a nation of regulations and not always for the best.

  • instant_karmen Aug 29, 5:32 p.m.

    case involving the city of Orlando where a federal ruling struck down that City's ordinance as unconstitutional.

    The CoR ordinance is equally unconstitutional. RCC 9-2O22b -- Distribution of Food Prohibited. No individuals or group shall serve or distribute meals or food of any kind in or on any City park or greenway unless such distribution is pursuant to a permit issued by the Parks, Recreation and Greenway Director.

    The way it currently reads, you cannot have a picnic with your family in the park without a permit. So until and unless this ordinance is applied equally across the board (or, as I hope will happen, city council will simply eliminate it except as it applies to for-profit groups), I will continue sharing my food in my city park with whom I choose, the same as everyone else. And if you ever want to join us, please do! We'd love to have you!

  • instant_karmen Aug 29, 5:17 p.m.

    As the co-founder of a secular organization who has, since January 2012, been feeding the hungry and homeless in Moore Square on Sundays, I thank our council members for their reasoned and rational response to this recent problem.

    Because some of the media have gotten the story a little mixed up, let me set the record straight: Love Wins was one of many organizations who were only recently (i.e. within the past four weeks) threatened with arrest by RPD officers for doing what we have been doing for years--some of these organizations have been doing it for >15 years.

    My org, Human Beans Together, was threatened three weeks in a row and we scrambled to find alternate locations until this all came to a head this past Sunday (original footage on WRAL was of our group serving people).

    Whatever your stance on homelessness and poverty, it is unconstitutional to prevent someone from sharing her food with whomever she wishes in a city park. This has already been decided in at least one...

  • RHNCOK Aug 29, 4:46 p.m.

    "You are partially correct. It will not completely remove this group of people from the Moore Square area, but it will significantly reduced the number of people in the group. The free food attracts many homeless/low income people from other areas of the city to Moore Square each day."

    Not each day. Try to keep up and be correct yourself, oh righteous one. Love Wins only serves on the weekends. I highly doubt the homeless camp out 5 days to wait for a sausage biscuit and coffee.

    The bus terminal is right next to the park is an additional factor to people hanging around the area. Not all are homeless transients.

    The city is trying to clean it up, by using an inconsistent, poorly-thought out strategy involving the heavy hand of the law. Hopefully they will try to work out a compromise and find a place during the weekends.

    But my point is, the contingent they wish disappeared will still be there Mon-Fri. I suppose it's bad for weekend business and festivals, and their tax revenue.

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