Raleigh, N.C. — After a social media campaign shed light on a City of Raleigh requirement that groups giving meals to the homeless have a permit to do so or face arrest, political leaders are looking to those same organizations for suggestions to help them save face.
City leaders invited representatives of church groups, businesses and charities to a meeting Monday evening to devise an alternative to open feeding in Moore Square.
"It is a meeting where we are asking questions and trying to gather input," said Debra King, chairwoman of the Wake County Partnership to End and Prevent Homelessness. "It is key to hear from everybody in the room."
The permit requirement, on the books since 1998 but rarely enforced, is part of the city's rules governing parks. Interim City Manager Perry James has said that police stepped up enforcement after reports of litter and rodent problems in the area.
Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown said her officers were called to Moore Square more than 3,000 times over the past two years, almost six times the number of calls to Nash Park, a nearby downtown park.
Since the Aug. 25 claim by members of Love Wins Ministries that police threatened them with arrest, enforcement has been on hold while the city tries to find a compromise.
Love Wins' pastor and director Hugh Hollowell said he is skeptical.
"We are worried that this is predetermined, that this is choreographed, just like apparently the idea to throw us out of the park three weeks ago was choreographed," Hollowell said. "We hope that we are wrong and this is (city leaders) exercising good will."
City Council members have said they'd like to expand the number of groups serving the homeless in Raleigh and find another location where they can do their good works.
"Please give the city another chance, allow us to work with (the charitable groups) to come to a conclusion and a new system that works better for all citizens," said City Council member Bonner Gaylord.
Some of the food ministries say Moore Square is where the homeless congregate and therefore the best place to bring those meals.
The city has said they hope to designate an alternate location by November.