RALEIGH, NC — Apparently in Raleigh, NC, feeding those that are hungry is now a jailable offense. A local non-profit that cares for the city’s homeless was told by police that if they handed out a hot meal from the sidewalk, they would be arrested. More than 70 people had already arrived, knowing that the volunteers would be there with sausage biscuits and coffee.
“I had to face those who were waiting and tell them that I could not feed them, or I would be arrested.” Rev. Hugh Hollowell, pastor and director of Love Wins Minsitries, said in a blog post.
On August 24th, volunteers with Love Wins Ministries arrived at the sidewalk outside of Moore Square at 9:00am to pass out food to the hungry, like they did every weekend. Hollowell explained that they had always set up on the sidewalk, a public space, making sure to keep the pathway clear and clean up after themselves. ”We have operated, unmolested, under this assumption for the last six years,” Hollowell said.
This time, the volunteers were told that passing out the meals would be breaking a city ordinance and that anyone caught doing so would be arrested. However, no officer would tell the ministry what ordinance it was they were breaking. Hollowell quoted the officer as saying:
“I am just telling you what is. Now you pass out that food, you will go to jail.”
Police spokesman Jim Sughrue said in an email to WRAL that no one was arrested and that the group was “simply informed” of the rules. ”Ultimately, the ordinance is a city issue, of course, and when final determinations are made, the police department works with everyone to handle things in the smoothest way possible,” he said.
Love Wins was not the only non-profit to be accosted in the Moore Square area recently. Human Beans Together volunteer Todd Pratt also told WRAL that his group had been informed that they were no longer allowed to serve the homeless outside Moore Square either.
The city’s choice to threaten those who help the homeless is made worse by the fact that Raleigh’s soup kitchens are closed on the weekends. On these days, the homeless have nowhere else they can turn for a good meal. ”I don’t have any family here, not one family member and if these people were not here, I would not make it,” Wanda Borrero, who is currently homeless, told WFLA in response to the crackdown. ”I mean they might as well kill us. That’s what it’s coming to, they might as well kill us.”
Some think a city project to revitalize the square, set to cost $14.8 million, is the reason for the recent crackdown on charitable giving.
“The police are caught up in a system. The police work for the mayor and the City Council,” Hollowell told WRAL. “(They are) ultimately responsible to the developers who spend lots and lots of money to revitalize downtown.”
This is far from the first time that charity has been rewarded with waste and government violence. In February, Lousiana’s State Health Department forced a homeless shelter to destroy 1600 pounds of venison (worth $8000) because “deer are not an approved meat source to be distributed commercially,” CBS Houston reported. Or New York City, where the Bloomberg administration banned food donations to the city’s government-run homeless shelters more than a year ago.
Let the city know what you think by using the resources below:
Raleigh Police Department - 919-996-3335
To contact the Raleigh City Council members:
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
To read more about the plight of the homeless: Criminalizing Crisis: The Criminalization of Homelessness in U.S. Cities, National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty