The City Council Approves Purchase of the Oak City Center!

Supporters were asked to stand, and nearly two thirds of the room rose.
Supporters were asked to stand, and nearly two thirds of the room rose.

We did it!

Tuesday afternoon, the Raleigh City Council met, and approved the purchase of the building for the Oak City Center. In doing this, the City of Raleigh kept a promise it made back in 2013, when it promised the establishment of a one stop center for those experiencing homelessness. It now goes to the County commission, where it is anticipated to pass without issue sometime in January.

The huge turnout of supporters who came to the meeting to show community support for the Oak City Center was astounding. We asked people who came to wear green, to show their solidarity with our cause, and even the Mayor was wearing a green jacket! Before the Council voted, the Mayor spoke, and said that while it was not up for public comment, she would like it if those who were here in support of the Center would stand – and easily two thirds of the room rose as one.

If I live to be 100, yesterday will be one of my proudest days. We asked for you to stand with us on behalf of those whose voices are all too often silenced, and you did – in a huge way. Calls, emails and letters poured in from across the country, and even Red Hat, the software company, wrote a letter of support of the Oak City Center.

This is a victory for those who are experiencing homelessness, making it easier for them to have access to food and services and a place to be. And it’s a victory for the City of Raleigh – the unanimous vote in favor of the city keeping its promise speaks of the progressive city it is, and that it aspires to be.

And yes, this is a victory for us, at the end of a long fight that began a Saturday morning three and a half years ago when we were threatened with arrest for doing a thing that the City has now agreed to spend three million dollars to promote doing.

But the big winners in this are all of us. We spoke up, we exercised our voices, we showed up – and we changed minds, we changed hearts and we changed how a city addresses homelessness and food insecurity. That is huge.

There are people who will tell you that the way things are is just the way things are going to be. They will tell you that your voice does not count, that you have no power to effect change, that the fix is in and the best we can do is try to survive in a broken world.

Do not listen to those people. When we work together, our ability to move the marker toward the better world we all dream is possible is near endless. If the last three and a half years teaches nothing else, I hope it shows that.

This is not the end of the fight to make Raleigh more fair and just. It isn’t even the beginning of the end. But to quote Churchill, who was talking about another fight, when things seemed far more hopeless, it may just be the end of the beginning.

There is still the fight for affordable housing. The fight for access to healthy food, the fight to streamline the bureaucracy that prevents people from accessing services, the fight for a living wage.  So this is not over.

But I am not quitting, and I hope you won’t either. Because together we can make this City far more just and equitable for its most vulnerable citizens, and make it a city that is truly great.

Will Raleigh Keep Its Promises To The Homeless and Hungry?

biscuits-promises

They Made a Promise

In August of 2013, the City of Raleigh used the Raleigh Police Department to try to stop us, and people like us, from sharing food with vulnerable people. And we asked you to help us get the City’s attention, and you did. And as a result of that attention, a task force was formed of concerned citizens, and that task force made recommendations to the City, which they enacted.

One of the recommendations of that task force, agreed to by the City on December 3, 2013, was the development of a “temporary” location to share food. That was the Oak City Outreach Center.

But another recommendation, also agreed to by the city on December 3, 2013, was that of a long-term solution, a “one-stop shop” location to deliver services to people who are experiencing homelessness or are food insecure. This was designed to be the successor to, or the fulfillment of, the Oak City Outreach Center.

In the years since, many of us have worked tirelessly to not only make the Oak City Outreach Center a success, but to bring about its successor, the Oak City Center – a multi-services intake center where vulnerable people can access the help they need, where community can be built and where meals can be shared.

Now its Time to Keep That Promise

And we are really close to making that place a reality. It’s important that it be near downtown, and its important that it have a lot of space. The biggest hold up has been finding the right spot, in a place that can be purchased, at a price that is workable. After an exhaustive search, that place has been found.

Tuesday, December 6th, nearly 3 years to the day after the City promised to move toward this long-term solution, they are meeting again, and this time on the agenda is whether to approve the purchase of the proposed site.

We had been assured many times of the City’s commitment to this project, but over the last few weeks, we have heard murmurs of weakening of that support, with one councilor, Kay Crowder, going on record as being against the location.

Since that article, we have reached out to a number of members of the City Council, asking them to affirm their support. Some of them have been super-supportive, others are noncommittal and some, like Ms. Crowder, are downright opposed.

I am asking you to help me remind the City of Raleigh of its promises, and to ask them to keep that promise.

Here is what you can do to help: Reach out, show up, and share.

Reach out

Contact the Mayor and members of the Raleigh City Council, and ask them to vote yes to approving the purchase of the location for the Oak City Center. If you are local, mention that. And if you are not located here, please let them know if their decisions around how they treat the most vulnerable citizens here will affect your future vacation or business plans.

The mayor’s office and city council members share a phone line: (919) 996-3050.

Here are their email addresses, Twitter, and Facebook pages. Be kind, but firm. If they don’t answer, leave them a voice mail and try back later.

Mayor Nancy McFarlane

Email   Facebook   Twitter

Council Member Russ Stephenson

Email   Facebook   Twitter

Council Member Mary-Ann Baldwin

Email   Facebook   Twitter

Council Member Kay Crowder

Email   Facebook   Twitter

Council Member Dickie Thompson

Email   Facebook   Twitter

Council Member David Cox

Email   Facebook   Twitter

Council Member Corey Branch

Email   Facebook   Twitter

Council Member Bonner Gaylord

Email   Facebook   Twitter

Show up

We need people to show up on the afternoon session of the City Council at 1:00PM on Tuesday, December 6th . 

The address is 222 W. Hargett St., Raleigh, NC 27601. If you are coming, we ask that you wear a green shirt to show your support.

The session begins at 1:00PM, but we really need you there at least 30 minutes before hand, and 45 minutes before would be better. How many people show up in support of this matter, and we need to show the Mayor and the City Council that we are watching to see if they keep the promise they made three years ago.

 

Share

I need you to share this with your networks – all your networks. Please forward this link via email, via Facebook, twitter. Share it with your church, your small group, your Bible Study, the kid working the counter at McDonalds.

And that’s it – We need to get the word out, get people there on Tuesday, and let the City Council know that we are watching to see if the City is willing to keep the promise it made three years ago to it’s most vulnerable citizens.

Three years ago, when men with guns forbade me to feed to hungry people who were waiting on the food I had brought, I made a promise – I told them I didn’t know what was going on, but that I would fix this, and make sure they would never be denied access to food in this city again.

I take that promise very seriously. I hope the City takes its promise to those same people as seriously.

This Day in History #Biscuitgate

Biscuitgate

I just realized – #Biscuitgate occurred two years ago today. It made me think how far Raleigh has come as a city, and how hard we all have worked.

I am immensely grateful I get to do this work, and get to work with the amazing, caring people I have over the last two years. Together, we have helped Raleigh live up to its ideals and helped its policies match its principles.

But we aren’t done yet. The more than 70,000 meals served at The Oak City Outreach Center in the last year tell us there is much work left to be done.

Biscuitgate: One Year Later

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” – Nelson Mandela

From the very beginning, more than seven years ago, we committed to not only do this work relationally, but to do it in public. We’ve blogged about it from day one, and with our blog, our social media presence, and our newsletters, we try hard to stoke the imaginations of those who watch us. We want to bear witness to the goodness of God to our friends who are marginalized, but we also bear witness that another world is possible, to our friends who have lots of margin and who live in the world as it is and wish for the world as it should be.

And as gratifying as the Biscuitgate attention is, and as happy as we are with the end result of making life suck a little less for our friends who live outside, and as grateful as we are for the friendships we have formed as a result of this campaign, we remember that it’s all just a side effect of our work. It’s not our work.

Our primary work is not changing the City, or policy, or the laws. Our work is to build a community of folks, some housed and some not, who are trying to learn how to love each other. Our work is to be with those who have no hope. Our work is to bear witness to the goodness of God in a world that has legitimate reasons to doubt that goodness.

That the world changes for the better is just a benefit.

Our Biscuitgate blog posts, which you can also read at this link:

Behind the scenes of Biscuitgate, from phone calls to memes to staff meals:

Our Statement Regarding The One Year Anniversary Of Biscuitgate

Downtown Raleigh at night - January 2012

One year ago today, volunteers from Love Wins Ministries showed up in Moore Square to share food with our friends, just like we had done every other weekend for nearly seven years. Only this time, the Raleigh Police Department showed up to stop us, and threatened us with arrest if we did not leave.

When the story went viral, the eyes of the world were cast upon the City of Raleigh, and they did not like what they saw. But more importantly, a mirror was held up to us in this city. And we too did not like what we saw.

Because the truth is, Raleigh is a compassionate city. A generous city. A kind city. And when Raleigh realized they were not acting compassionate, or kind, or generous, they changed that.

But the Oak City Outreach Center did not happen in isolation. It was the result of a lot of hard work from the City Council and staff, the groups like ourselves that share food, the Moore Square task force and The Raleigh-Wake Partnership to End and Prevent Homelessness. The citizens of Raleigh owe you all of these people an incalculable debt. Thank you.

Because of all that hard work, Raleigh’s most vulnerable citizens now have a place on the weekends to get out of the elements, to be treated with dignity and respect and have a place to get a hot meal or a cold drink. In the last two months, more than 10,000 meals have been shared here.

And yet our work is not done. This Outreach Center is a temporary solution, and even now we are working with the Wake-Raleigh Partnership and the City to plan the permanent outreach center.

As a city, we have come a long way in a very short time. But we have so much farther to go. But we will finish this race. If the last year has taught us anything, it is that all of us are smarter than any of us, and that when our will to do good lines up with our desire to do good, there is nothing we cannot accomplish.

The Opposite Of Homelessness Is Community

View from the top.
A look at the inside of the Oak City Outreach Center.

Almost a year ago, the City tried to stop us, and people like us, from sharing food with vulnerable people. And we asked you to help us get the City’s attention, and you did. And as a result of that attention, a task force was formed of concerned citizens, and that task force made recommendations to the City, which they enacted.

And one of the results was the creation of the Oak City Outreach Center, where groups like ours can share food and extend hospitality on the weekends, when nothing else is open. The City committed $150,000 to make the Center happen, and it’s funded at $60,000 a year to keep it going. Or, put another way, in five years they will spend half a million dollars to fund the Oak City Outreach Center.

And that sorta blows my mind.

The City went from trying to arrest people who were doing something to spending almost half a million dollars to encourage people to do that same thing, and the decision to change their mind happened in less than two months.

Why would they do that?

From the very beginning, more than seven year ago, I committed to not only do this work relationally, but to do it in public. I have blogged about it from day one, and with our blog, our social media presence, and our newsletters, we try hard to stoke the imaginations of those who watch us. We want to bear witness to the goodness of God to our friends who are marginalized, but we also bear witness that another world is possible, to our friends who have lots of margin and who live in the world as it is and wish for the world as it should be.

In short, part of our work is to give you new ways to think about community, and relationships, and our responsibilities for each other. So, last August, when we wrote about the incident in Moore Square, it wasn’t to get our name in the paper or a fundraising ploy, but to hold a mirror up to the City and to say, “You are better than this. We are better than this.”

And it worked.

The reason the City went from trying to arrest people who were sharing food to spending money to encourage people to share food is because the City realized that its actions were not in alignment with the image it had of itself.

And when a person, an organization, a city, realizes that, then things can change.

So, because of your work reminding the City just who they are, tomorrow groups like ours will share food at the new Oak City Outreach Center for the first time. And people who had nowhere to go now have a place to go. And that place will have air conditioning and bathrooms and tables and chairs and people will be treated with dignity and respect.

Because we brought it to your attention. Because you spoke out. Because the City did the right thing. Because lots of us have sat in task force meetings to work out the details. Because we did this together. Because all of us are smarter than any of us.

Because the opposite of homeless isn’t housed, it’s community. And because community works.

                                                                                                  

A sneak peek at the interior of the Oak City Outreach Center:

Biscuitgate Update: Oak City Outreach Center Construction

Oak City Outreach Center Photos
Click to view the complete Oak City Outreach Center picture update.

Every Saturday morning I see 50 of my friends in Moore Square. We catch up, laugh, share advice, and enjoy breakfast together. It’s my favorite time of the week, so when the Biscuitgate process produced the Food Distribution Alternative Task Force, charged with engaging a public dialogue around the issue of sharing food in Moore Square, I jumped at the opportunity up to participate in what were bound to be exciting changes in Raleigh’s downtown community.

In the first few Task Force meetings last summer, City personnel listened to organizations currently sharing food in the park, stakeholders in potential changes. They wanted to know what we would need to compassionately and successfully share food in the downtown core. Fast forward to April, and the Task Force, comprised of any willing organization or citizen, has accomplished a lot in the last few months:

  • We’ve worked with the City to acquire a building for our friends to eat in every weekend. Included in the building are bathrooms, tables and chairs, and outdoor seating – none of which we have in Moore Square right now. The building is called the Oak City Outreach Center (see pictures above).
  • The creation of resource guides to distribute to people who may be in need of services, or community members who want to be aware of resources.
  • The creation of an education component to inform the public about the needs of people who may be experiencing homelessness.
  • Ideas and goals for a long-term plan to address homelessness in Raleigh.
  • A comprehensive map of service locations & resource distribution locations the downtown core.

Love Wins is excited about the Task Force’s accomplishments, and we’re thankful for the collaboration and willingness of the organizations and City personnel involved in the process.

But the work of the Task Force isn’t just lists, hand shakes, and meetings.

The Task Force has created a space for hospitality to flourish – for people to feel included, welcomed, and invited to be in community with each other. The new building is exciting and a great addition to Raleigh, but it’s not actually about the food. It’s about the importance of community and making community available to Raleigh’s most vulnerable citizens.

By creating a space for people to freely enter, to use the bathroom, to wash their hands, and then to sit down and enjoy breakfast, we are making space for community to happen. Sharing food in the Oak City Outreach Center is an opportunity for individuals and organizations to develop relationships with Josh, a friend staying at the men’s shelter while he desperately searches for job, and Craig, a church goer searching for a way to connect to the world around him.

Josh and Craig can come back and see each other each week over breakfast, strengthening their relationship by keeping up with each others’ lives.

The Oak City Outreach Center is our opportunity to be in community with each other. This is our chance to know our neighbors, to experience their joys and struggles, and for our neighbors to experience ours.

That’s why come June, when the Outreach Center opens, Saturdays will be even more special to me.

Related: “Feeding” Is For Cats And Babies, Biscuitgate Posts

Biscuitgate Statement: Ground Contamination At Food Distribution Center Site

The future Food Distribution Center adjacent to Moore Square sits on contaminated ground, unbeknownst to any of the center’s stakeholders until today.

Earlier today Love Wins Ministries learned that the future Food Distribution Center adjacent to Moore Square sits on contaminated ground, unbeknownst to any of the center’s stakeholders until today. The issue came to light when a downtown school proposed leasing from the City another building on the same lot. According to the News & Observer, “City officials pointed to a 2013 environmental analysis, which detailed possible ground contamination from a dry cleaner and a gas station that once occupied the block. The report also describes petroleum and chlorinated solvents flowing underground from the Moore Square Magnet Middle School property.”

We see the City Council’s recent decision as two distinct issues. If the Food Distribution Center is to be used by Raleigh’s most vulnerable citizens – men, women, and children who are homeless and food insecure – environmental concerns would be as important to them as they would be to housed and food secure school children. In the same News & Observer article, Mayor Nancy McFarlane is quoted as saying, “I just have a hard time saying yes to putting children in a spot that has environmental contamination from dry-cleaning fluid.” We would hope the City is as concerned about food insecure men, women, and children being exposed to dangerous chemicals as it is about students.

That being said, based on the information we have seen, the contamination levels are in the generally accepted safe zone. We don’t expect any particular problem in moving forward with the Food Distribution Center as planned. We also recognize that this facility is temporary and we appreciate the City making it available until a long-term facility is determined.

While we are eager to work with the City in the Food Distribution Center process, the unfortunate phrasing in the article only serves to demonstrate just how far we have to go as a City in embracing the needs of our most vulnerable citizens.

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

impossible

First, the good news.

On Tuesday of this week, the Raleigh City Council met, and they voted unanimously to approve the recommendations of the Food Distribution Alternatives Task Force.

In the short-term, the City will provide a building – across the street from the park we were distributing food illegally – for us to distribute food legally.  A building with a roof, bathrooms, hand-washing facilities, and tables and chairs.  A building where people can eat with dignity and laugh and feel human.

In the long term, the Task Force continues to provide long-term solutions to the city, with the goal being a one-stop solution.

This is, to say the least, amazing.

Three and a half months ago, the City was trying to arrest us for sharing food with people. Now they are providing a building not 200 feet from where they tried to arrest us and people like us. And now we no longer have to stand in the rain, no longer have to shiver in the wintertime, no longer have to worry if the police will try to stop us.

More importantly, the City has committed itself to the population of its citizens experiencing homelessness, and to that population remaining downtown. For once, the City of Raleigh is doing something regarding people without a home that does not resort to hobophobia or scare tactics.

In the almost seven years I have lived in Raleigh, I have never been more proud of my adopted city.

Cities all over the country are attempting to criminalize homelessness. Raleigh is one of the few victories for our side. Usually, those who are experiencing homelessness are the victims, getting pushed farther and farther into the margins.

It has been a wild ride, and the end result is that because of a long line of actions that started with a tweet and then a blog post, we helped change the world. Or, at least, our little corner of it. Because of the attention driven by social media and the thousands and thousands of emails, phone calls and letters all of you sent, the city had no choice but to work with us to develop a solution.

This is your victory, too.

The last 100 days or so have been both exhilarating and exhausting. The excitement of being interviewed by Fox News or NPR, the long, never ending meetings with politicians and City staff. The touching stories of others who have shared food and had their lives changed, and the frustration of being lied to.

It could be addicting, all the attention. After six and a half years of being in the background, grinding away, focusing on faithfulness and not success, to be validated in the national media is gratifying and attractive.  To receive emails from around the country, asking for our help in their own versions of Biscuitgate is an ego boost for sure, especially when your little ministry barely has a working vacuum.

And yet…

None of that is ours to do.

Because as gratifying as the attention is, and as happy as we are with the end result of making life suck a little less for our friends who live outside, and as grateful as we are for the friendships we have formed as a result of this campaign, we remember that it is all just a side effect of our work. It is not our work.

Our primary work is not changing the City, or policy, or the laws. Our work is to build a community of folks, some housed and some not, who are trying to learn how to love each other. Our work is to be with those who have no hope. Our work is to bear witness to the goodness of God in a world that has legitimate reasons to doubt that goodness.

That the world changes for the better is just a benefit.

So, there is no danger of me getting a media consultant, or of us developing a policy arm or me running for office (all of which have been seriously suggested by well-meaning folks). There is just the work, and us trying – and often failing – to be faithful to it.

Reaction To November 26 City Council Committee Meeting

Addressing the Committee with praise and concerns for the proposed plan.
Addressing the Committee with praise and concerns for the proposed plan.

As we mentioned earlier in the week, the Raleigh City Council’s Law & Public Safety Committee met last night to hear the Food Distribution Alternative Task Force’s recommendation to use a warehouse adjacent to Moore Square as a temporary solution to sharing food in Moore Square.

Click here to read the recommendations of the Task Force, including details on the warehouse space.

The meeting is the latest in a series of actions by the City of Raleigh since a police officer threatened to arrest me for sharing biscuits in coffee in Moore Square in August.

The Task Force very clearly accomplished a lot over the last three months, and their work has propelled the process to where it is now. That is, the process of making Raleigh a city for all of its citizens.

While the proposal has our overall support, the one concern we have is that the suggested $111,000 construction budget plan and $7,000 public education campaign budget calls for donations from the public and from churches.

The problem is that it’s the city’s responsibility to care for its most vulnerable citizens, and to care for them in the same way it would care for less vulnerable citizens. The city didn’t seek donations to build the new downtown amphitheater. It didn’t ask for downtown churches to help develop Glenwood South. The city has an incredible amount of potential to be hospitable to its citizens who are poor in the same ways it is hospitable to its citizens who are not poor.

Nevertheless, we are grateful for the Law & Public Safety Committee’s approval of the Task Force’s recommendations. It’s another step toward the capital city of North Carolina becoming a city for all people.

Related Information: