Local News

Nonprofit says it was threatened with arrest for feeding Raleigh homeless

Posted August 25, 2013
Updated August 26, 2013

— A spokesman for the Raleigh Police Department says a police officer was enforcing a city ordinance when he reportedly told, without explanation, a group of volunteers Saturday that they could be arrested for serving breakfast to the homeless.

Love Wins Ministries posted on its website Saturday that the officer approached them as they were preparing to pass out free coffee and sausage biscuits to more than 70 homeless people in downtown Raleigh.

"This morning we showed up at Moore Square at 9:00 a.m., just like we have done virtually every Saturday and Sunday for the last six years," the ministry's pastor and director, Rev. Hugh Hollowell, wrote in a blog post. "Today, officers from Raleigh Police Department prevented us from doing our work, for the first time ever. An officer said, quite bluntly, that if we attempted to distribute food, we would be arrested."

Hollowell said the officers wouldn't tell the group which ordinance they were violating, but simply told them they had to leave.

Sec. 9-2022 of the rules governing city parks prohibits the distribution of food without a permit.

"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 ordinance states.

Police spokesman Jim Sughrue said in an email Sunday that no one was arrested and that the group was "simply informed" of the rules, which have been on the books since 1998.

"Work is ongoing with those involved, some of whom are developing alternative sites," Sughrue said. "Ultimately, the ordinance is a city issue, of course, and when final determinations are made, the police department works with everyone to handle things in the smoothest way possible."

Love Wins is one of a number of nonprofits who help feed the homeless near Moore Square on weekends.

Todd Pratt, a volunteer with Human Beans Together, said his group was also notified recently that it could no longer serve the homeless on public property. On Sunday, the group moved to a private parking lot across the street from Moore Square, but police also asked them to leave that area.

"We had lots of volunteers and lots of hungry people and nowhere to go," Pratt said.

Feeding homeless Volunteers kicked out of Moore Square for serving homeless

William McLaurin, who owns the private lot, allowed the volunteers to stay, but said he was worried about liability issues in the future.

Berrie Alston and Raheen Andrews say they are grateful for meals from volunteers.

"This is the only place that some people can go for a meal," Alston said. "They are trying to push us out of the park."

"If the people want to come out and choose to give us some food or anybody some food, why would you stop them?" Andrews asked.

Love Wins and Human Beans say police cited excessive litter in the area on Mondays as a reason for the crackdown, but organizers say they always clean up the mess after serving a meal. They believe the move has to do with the city's revitalization efforts in the area. 

"The police are caught up in a system. The police work for the mayor and the City Council," Hollowell said. "(They are) ultimately responsible to the developers who spend lots and lots of money to revitalize downtown."

Mayor Nancy McFarlane met with Hollowell at Moore Square Sunday afternoon and said she is eager to find a way for the group to continue its ministry.

"What people heard yesterday was the police department trying to let everyone know (that) this is the existing ordinance, and this is why it's not really working right now," McFarlane said. "We're going to work on a better way."

Earlier Sunday, she posted a statement to her Facebook page saying that neither she nor City Council were involved in the decision to prevent the groups from feeding the homeless.

"Raleigh is a progressive city that believes in the values of each of its citizens," she 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."

City Council member Bonner Gaylord also took to Facebook Sunday to address the matter, saying he was still trying to figure out what happened.

"It's important for us to maintain a clean and safe environment in our city, especially in our parks," Gaylord posted. "However, we cannot let those who are in the most need go without help."

McFarlane and Gaylord's statements came after Love Wins' blog post caused a firestorm on social media.

"Unbelievable! It's sad that there's no care or compassion for people!" Chris White wrote on WRAL's Facebook page.

"This is so outrageous," Mariane Z. Franks posted. "Hopefully the City of Raleigh will relook at this ordinance that is clearly (an) overreach at best. Disgusting. Shame on the City of Raleigh."


This story is closed for comments.

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  • aej1016 Aug 28, 2013

    My heart is sad to see how many of Raleigh's citizens are jumping on the band wagon with this negative publicity and shaming Raleigh Police Officers for this situation. I've even seen people wish them to lose their jobs! Do you really think RPD is that cold and heartless that they would tell people to stop feeding the hungry just because? I know officers who go out of their way to look out and care for the homeless! An officer's job is to serve and protect, this officer was simply doing his job! I am so frustrated by the negative media that has been spread about our great city of Raleigh because one ministry decided to run to the news and whine! From experience, I know people get told all the time at Moore Square that they cannot feed the homeless, or they have to go somewhere else to do it. If they really want to minister, they can find a way to do it.

  • Titus Pullo Aug 27, 2013

    If it is a law it should be enforced. If no one ( and not just those people who are inconvenienced by it ) wants the law to be enforced it should be stricken from the books.

  • Titus Pullo Aug 27, 2013

    "these are not vagrants.. they are hungry"

    I'm not a vagrant and I'm hungry. Do I qualify for a free breakfast? I'd love a sausage biscuit.

  • deputy0053 Aug 27, 2013

    As Christians, we need to be cognizant of what the Bible states in Romans 13. This scripture clearly states obedience to government. We need to seek ways that we can conform to civil law while still being the ambassadors of Christ.

  • btneast Aug 27, 2013

    And read the whole article it says the people that serve clean up after them.

    ...you believe everything you read on the internet, especially on just one news outlets' website?

  • bubbaOK Aug 27, 2013

    Is this and screaming mimi pols the topics of the day today?

  • HANS FOR PRESIDENT!!!!! JK Aug 27, 2013

    Great to see the police doing their jobs, I'll bet if it were coffee and doughnuts RPD would have lined up around the block. For crying out loud, these folks were doing a great thing for the homeless, someone should lose their job for trying to enforce this law.


    So you'd like for someone to lose their job for enforcing a law they swore to enforce when they took said job???? I'm sure you'd be there with your liberal hand out to help them when they becaome homeless for actually performing their job properly? You're funny

  • Mom120 Aug 27, 2013

    these are not vagrants.. they are hungry

  • TTDD Aug 27, 2013

    We do not need the vagrants littering our streets. Ship them off somewhere else. Mexico perhaps.

  • cweaver1000 Aug 26, 2013

    Great to see the police doing their jobs, I'll bet if it were coffee and doughnuts RPD would have lined up around the block. For crying out loud, these folks were doing a great thing for the homeless, someone should lose their job for trying to enforce this law.