Feeding Homeless Apparently Illegal in Raleigh, NC

Maggie, Sarah, our church partner, and I speak with an officer.

Maggie, Sarah, our church partner, and I speak with an officer.

What Happened

On the morning of Saturday, August, 24, Love Wins 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. We provide, without cost or obligation, hot coffee and a breakfast sandwich to anyone who wants one. We keep this promise to our community in cooperation with five different, large suburban churches that help us with manpower and funding.

On that morning three 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.

Me addressing the crowd. "They will arrest me if I give you a biscuit."

Me addressing the crowd. “They will arrest me if I give you a biscuit.”

Our partnering church brought 100 sausage biscuits and large amounts of coffee. We asked the officers for permission to disperse the biscuits to the over 70 people who had lined up, waiting to eat. They said no. I had to face those who were waiting and tell them that I could not feed them, or I would be arrested.

In the past, we have had a good working relationship with the Raleigh Police Department. We knew that we could not use the park itself, as doing so required a permit, but that it was acceptable to set up on the sidewalk, as long as we did not block the sidewalk and cleaned up after ourselves. We have operated, unmolested, under this assumption for the last six years.

By the way, each permit to use the park costs $800. Yes, eight hundred dollars. That would cost us $1,600 every weekend, and the officer we spoke to said the City likely wouldn’t approve it anyway.

No representative from the Raleigh Police Department was willing to tell us which ordinance we broke, or why, after six years and countless friendly and cooperative encounters with the Department, they are now preventing us from feeding hungry people.

When I asked the officer why, he said that he was not going to debate me. “I am just telling you what is. Now you pass out that food, you will go to jail.”

What We Will Do

Simple: we will feed people. I am, after all (however imperfectly), a follower of Jesus, who said himself that when we ignore hungry people, we ignore him.

We knew that with the upcoming revitalization of Moore Square, we would have to find alternative arrangements. We have been working to that end, but as the revitalization is currently unfunded, and has no start date, we felt we had some time.

What We Won’t Do

We appreciate all the ways you have written in to suggest that we could subvert the system, but to do that only admits to the City of Raleigh that its argument is legitimate. We maintain that we have done nothing wrong.

We feed people and have been doing so, and much more, for six years. On the weekends people have no where else to go other than the park because Wake County and/or the City of Raleigh offers no soup kitchens or other options on the weekends. None. There is no “official” place you can get a meal if you are homeless or at-risk of homelessness. You are left to your wits, and for the last six years, you could get a cup of hot coffee and a hot breakfast sandwich from us – because you could not get one from any tax funded location.

We have not hidden. Our work of bringing biscuits to the park has been mentioned in multiple full-page articles in the local paper over the years. We have had countless routine conversations with the police while doing this alleged illegal activity. We do not hide. And while, according to the City of Raleigh, it might be illegal to feed hungry people, it is most assuredly the right thing to do.

Update, Summer 2014: In less than one year we went from the incident you just read about to sharing food in an air-conditioned building with bathrooms and tables. Read more updates here. Photos of the facility, named the Oak City Outreach Center, are below.

 

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Hugh Hollowell

Hugh Hollowell

Pastor & Executive Director at Love Wins Ministries
Hugh is a Mennonite minister and the founding director of Love Wins. He likes peanut M&Ms.
Hugh Hollowell

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