Raleigh, N.C. — The director of Raleigh's parks department sought advice from the city attorney about how to stop charity groups from feeding the homeless in Moore Square a month before police officers allegedly threatened the do-gooders with arrest for handing out meals, according to emails released to WRAL Thursday.
The groups took to social media to lambaste the city, and their campaign garnered national attention.
Mayor Nancy McFarlane and City Council have denied that they were part of the decision to ramp up enforcement of an ordinance that requires anyone serving food in the park to obtain a permit. But other city officials said litter, rodent and safety problems at the historic downtown park prompted the crackdown.
Last month, the City Council waived the permit requirement while it considers compromise options that would allow the charitable groups to continue their good works in an alternate location.
In a July 11 email, Diane Sauer, director of the city's Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Department, told City Attorney Tom McCormick that the Moore Square feedings were "out of control."
"Is there anything we can do from a legal perspective to stop the feeding around Moore Square?" Sauer wrote. "I recognize this is a very sensitive topic, but it is truly out of control."
A day earlier, Jayne Kirkpatrick, the city's public affairs director, wrote that her department was "developing a public education campaign on the harm that is done by persons feeding the homeless in Moore Square."
"I need photos of the feedings, the debris that remains, the rodents," Kirkpatrick wrote. "I need extensive footage. There is a real problem I understand from 9 to the afternoon on Saturdays."
One month later, according to an Aug. 11 email from Raleigh police Sgt. A.C. Pugh, officers warned charity group Humans Beans Together about the ordinance.
"The group, though disappointed, decided to dismantle their feeding station and move on and seek counsel from their 'pro-bono' lawyers," Pugh wrote.
Two weeks later, Love Wins Ministries said officers threatened them with arrest for feeding the homeless and the group launched a social media campaign to bring awareness to the issue.
"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 Aug. 24. "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."
The following day, hours after news of the crackdown appeared on WRAL, emails show that city leaders began compiling information about problems caused by the feedings.
Police Lt. Richard Hoffman suggested in an Aug. 26 email that Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown present city leaders with various social media posts about the homeless in Moore Square to "demonstrate the opinion of the silent majority of citizens that the park is unsanitary, misused and unsafe."
At a City Council committee meeting later that week, 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.
It wasn't clear from the emails who directed Raleigh police to crack down on the feedings.
The charitable groups have said they're doubtful that a reasonable compromise can be achieved and that city leaders are just trying to save face.