Feeding Homeless Apparently Illegal in Raleigh, NC

Maggie, Hugh, and our partnering church 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.

"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.

What You Can Do

Several things. While it was Raleigh Police Department that threw us out of the park and threatened to arrest us, we realize they are acting under orders. Ultimately, they serve the interests of the Mayor and the City Council. In the words of the officer in charge today, “You need to take it up with the City Council.”

And if history has taught us anything, it is, as Frederick Douglas said, that “power concedes nothing without demand.”

1. Below are the email addresses and phone numbers of the Mayor and of the City Council members. We encourage you to email them and ask A) why organizations, such as Love Wins Ministries, are being prevented from feeding people in the park, when the City of Raleigh has no means of or plans to feed them and B) encourage them to allow said feeding to continue. continue to call and voice your concern. We spoke with the Mayor yesterday, and while she did say that no one will be arrested for feeding hungry people in the park, it’s important to continue to make your voice heard. The status quo is not acceptable.

Keeping in mind that we win over no one with anger or rudeness. Anger does not cast out fear – only love can do that.

* Out of town folks, call any and all of the City Council members.

* Raleigh residents, call the City Council member representing your district. You can find your district by entering your address here.

City Council At Large

Mary-Ann Baldwin - Email - 919-996-3050

City Council At Large/Mayor Pro Tem

Russ Stephenson - Email - 919-996-3050

District A

Randall Stagner - Email - 919-996-3050

District B

John Odom - Email - 919-996-3050

District C

Eugene Weeks - Email - 919-996-3050

District D

Thomas Crowder - Email - 919-996-3050

District E

Bonner Gaylord - Email - 919-996-3050

Mayor

Nancy McFarlane - Email - 919-996-3050

2. Post the link to this post on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit or any other social media outlets you have access to. Again, we have done nothing wrong, and have no desire to hide.

3. If you have contacts with people of influence (media, celebrities, etc.), please pass this story along to them or give them my email address – hugh@lovewins.info.

4. Stay up do date. The most current information will be on our Facebook page, which you can like to receive those updates automatically.

5. Pray for our friends who are hungry, and now have nowhere to eat. And pray for us, so that we do not lose our tempers and along with it, our soul. And pray for the officers and people in power, who are working against our goals.

6. If you’re local, attend the public City Council meeting that will take place soon to address the issue.

Pray for all of us, in fact, because we all need it, and our liberation is bound up in each other.

Inquiring minds want to know why it's not okay to treat people like people.

Inquiring minds want to know why it’s not okay to treat people like people.

What’s Happening Now 

In the last 48 hours our blog post about the incident has gone viral—if you count 250,000 views as such. The comments pour in faster than we can moderate them. The pressure created by concerned readers has reached the offices of Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane and the City Council.

I spoke with Mayor McFarlane yesterday afternoon. She said that she wasn’t aware of the Raleigh Police Department’s decision to arrest people sharing food. She confirmed that no one would be arrested for sharing food at Moore Square. I also had a conversation with Mayor Pro Tem Russ Stephenson, who assured me that pending further communication, the City would maintain the status quo of allowing us to serve food on the sidewalk immediately outside the park.

These are positive first steps as we forward with the City of Raleigh.

I want to be clear that Love Wins is not satisfied with the status quo. We should not need to pay $800 to feed hungry people in a park that belongs to everyone. A society is judged not by how it treats its most wealthy citizens, but by how it treats its most vulnerable.

Learn More:

- Frequently Asked Questions About The Moore Square Incident

- Sign up for the Love Wins newsletter.

 

Hugh Hollowell

About Hugh Hollowell

Hugh Hollowell is a minister in the Mennonite Church USA and based in Raleigh, N.C. He is the founder and director of Love Wins Ministries, which tackles the problems of homelessness by focusing on relationships, not outcomes. He likes peanut M&Ms.
This entry was posted in Biscuitgate, Blog and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

1,096 Responses to Feeding Homeless Apparently Illegal in Raleigh, NC

  1. kimberly cavender says:

    Perhaps the city had weighed the possibility of being sued if someone got sick from the food but even so should we let people go hungry because of lawyers? Aren’t we just a tad bit tired of this age old problem in our American culture? It’s food and folks are hungry. Simple.

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  4. S Morgan says:

    If there is no law prohibiting food sharing in the parks or public places, I wonder if the officers have engaged in criminal activity and using a government department to do so?… The park and all public places belong to the public as it is the public that has paid for the park and other county, city, state owned public places and to carry it one step further the officers that harassed you in park actually work for the public as it is public tax payer money that pays their salaries, at least in part.
    Tisk, Tisk, Tisk… I will pray for justice…

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  6. leland m says:

    John L , You’re right, I was informed that in the State of Connecticut they have a program for people on food stamps and general assistance that if they sign a waiver that they will no longer use public assistance in Connecticut they will give them a onetime get out of town check of $700 and a bus ticket anywhere in the USA. It is tempting to many and they sign their rights away for the quick money. That is how they deal with homelessness?

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  9. Morris says:

    My thoughts and prayers go out to all for a reasonable and compassion solution on this. It is heartening to see so many good positive suggestions.

  10. Dr. Richmond Dugger says:

    My Prayer for our friends in North Carolina

    My God Bless those who feed the hungry. May His hand re-direct those who are attempting to block the exercise of Christian charity. May the elected Officials be reminded 10,000 times 10,000 over, that they serve at the will of the Electorate. It is no longer fitting that Christians sit as bystanders to the events that are orchestrated against our teachings. With dignity and purpose, we stand and we fight.

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  14. John Fartsi says:

    Can’t you go to your local church/temple/synagogue/etc…and ask them if they will let you use their basement on weekends to feel homeless?

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  18. Chris says:

    I would have just said “Fine, officer. I will not distribute this food to the poor and hungry.”
    I then would simply shout out loud to the crowd that there’s too much food and coffee that needs to be “thrown away” and I/we need help disposing of it. Are there any volunteers?

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  20. Jut Nay Conang says:

    First of all, the cops have to tell you “where is it that it’s written that you can’t continue distributing food to the homeless?”, when you asked them that.
    Second, if there is such a law, just tell the officer that you guys didn’t know about it and would like to see a proof. If no proof is shown, and you guys are arrested and sent to , the officer can get in some serious trouble for professional negligence.

  21. ThirteenthLetter says:

    It’s real easy to be generous with property that doesn’t belong to you. Why aren’t you inviting these poor homeless people into your own homes?

  22. Patricia Joy says:

    I can’t talk for the others, but we have. We are fostering four children. A fifth who has now aged out often comes to stay with us when he can’t get on with his step mother. We also have a mother and her four children who were going to be put out on the street as the apartment she was living in was being sold. We don’t charge her any rent or for food and she doesn’t have the money to pay, she just helps us a bit running the house and working in the field a few hours a week.

    Out of interest ThirteenthLetter, what are you doing for the poor and homeless.

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  24. Virginia Owens-Blair says:

    I am coming home to Raleigh on 10/10 to start the weekend of my 40th NBHS class reunion and I must say as many people as I know in Raleigh and Cary who do this type of volunteer work, that I think it is a sad day in Raleigh, NC when people RPD tells people it is illegal to help feed hungry people! Raleigh May as we’ll be Chicago or Detroit or New York City.

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  27. kitty says:

    At the same time the police in that city are trying to stop people from eating, the supermarkets in almost every city and state are throwing away tons of perfectly edible food instead of allowing someone to pick it up and let people who can’t afford the high food prices to be able to eat or feed their children. Farmers are sometimes paid not to grow crops. Poverty exists because of the ignorance and selfishness/ greed of the so called ” ruling powers” and the commercial system. They want people to go hungry, thats how they can wear people down, make them ill, deny them proper medical care , then they hope they will just pass away. It is another form of genocide like Hitler and the SS, same mentality, different circumstances.

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  30. Jeana Parrish says:

    The homeless has the right to have free food so they can stay alive, I would be glad to go to jail to feed the homeless people. I would tell the judge that you will see me in your court every time because I’m not going to stop helping the homeless out with food and clothes that they need if I keep getting throu into jail every time I help out a homeless how would you like to live they do for a year no money and I would sue you and all th poplice people that keep thruoing me in jail.

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  42. Chris Boyles says:

    “An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law”
    ― Martin Luther King Jr.

    One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”
    ― Martin Luther King Jr.
    “An unjust law is itself a species of violence. Arrest for its breach is more so. Now the law of nonviolence says that violence should be resisted not by counter-violence but by nonviolence. This I do by breaking the law and by peacefully submitting to arrest and imprisonment.”
    ― Mahatma Gandhi, Non-violence in Peace and War 1942-49

    Based on the above, My name is Chris Boyles. I live in High Point NC. I am a committed Christian.
    I believe that a nonviolent peaceful protest of unjust laws is essential in this case. I am a willing volunteer that would like to feed the homeless and willing to accept the prospect of jail. I work at a homeless feeding mission. I want to help by getting arrested before my town adopts the same laws. I want to do this with your blessing. You can contact me at ouicb@aol.com or Tele 336-869-1304 and tell me what I need to do and where I need to go.

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