[Updated] Feeding the homeless in Raleigh barred by cops until Mayor and Council intervene. | Citizen | Indy Week
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Sunday, August 25, 2013

[Updated] Feeding the homeless in Raleigh barred by cops until Mayor and Council intervene.

Posted by on Sun, Aug 25, 2013 at 1:25 PM

{A brief update, 6 pm: Food Not Bombs did bring food and they were allowed to distribute it. The Raleigh police stood down after Mayor Nancy McFarlane and numerous Council members intervened today with Police Chief Deck-Brown and Acting City Manager Perry James. Councilor Mary-Ann Baldwin is pulling this issue into her Law & Public Safety Committee meeting — the Council majority must vote to put it there, which they will do by phone; but 48 hours notice of the "meeting" must be given first, and I think the rule is 48 hours more before the committee can meet. Until the committee has a chance to gather information, Chief Deck-Brown and the city administration have agreed to let the various groups continue to distribute food without being hassled or threatened with arrest, McFarlane said.

McFarlane and Councilor Russ Stephenson came to Moore Square today, talked with representatives of Food Not Bombs. Human Beans and Love Wins (great names!) and with some of the people who depend on these groups for food every weekend. The two officials delivered a clear message that the city will be looking for ways to help get food to the people who need it, not for ways to gum things up. Councilor Baldwin said the same thing to me on the telephone; she was in another meeting and couldn't make it to Moore Square.

None of the three had any forewarning of what the police and city administration were planning, though it's now clear that this crackdown was in the works for several weeks if not months. Baldwin's committee (the other members are John Odom and Randy Stagner) should find out why they weren't informed ahead of time. But the bigger task is to use this brief crisis — now defused — as an opportunity to see how the city can do more to aid its growing numbers of homeless people and people with homes who are nonetheless poor.]

The original post from earlier today follows —

This story is exploding on social media since it was posted by Love Wins, a ministry in Raleigh. Human Beans Together is another group suddenly barred by the Raleigh police from giving out food to the homeless in Moore Square on the weekends, when soup kitchens don't operate.

Folks are heading to Moore Square today at 4, when Food Not Bombs is intending to do its regular food distribution — or try, anyway.

Read the linked blog post above for background.

Everyone wants to know why the Raleigh City Council is doing this. The short answer is, this is the Raleigh city administration at work, not the Council. Right now, Council members and Mayor McFarlane are working the phones trying to figure out what the administration is doing .. and why.

I posted about the issue on Facebook just now, as follows:

On the Moore Square/food distribution issue, I just spoke with Mayor Nancy McFarlane and have been in contact with other City Council members as well. (Mary-Ann Baldwin, Russ Stephenson, Bonner Gaylord, Thomas Crowder.) They're all scrambling to get information about why the police are suddenly barring church groups from giving out food to the homeless. There's more than one side to this — and meetings have been going on about it for some time between city agencies and the churches — but without the Council's involvement or, apparently, awareness. (It's yet another example of a part-time council trying to oversee a city administration that doesn't really welcome oversight.)

The problem, from the perspective of the Parks & Rec. Dept., the police and the city manager's office, is the mess left behind when some groups (apparently) just drop off food and leave without seeing to any clean-up.

The mayor wants us to know that feeding homeless people is something the city should be assisting, not preventing. So the issue is how ... and where. Councilor Baldwin chairs the Law & Public Safety Committee, and she's working to get the issue put before her committee. That's a good step. I suggested to her that Council somehow prevail on the police to take a step back and allow the churches to operate as before until Council can shape a new plan that gets food to the people who need it in the best way possible.

I am still planning to be in Moore Square at 4 today when Food Not Bombs is intending to do its weekly food distribution. We'll see what the police response is.

One more relevant fact: A city ordinance bars food distribution in city parks except by permit. But it's never been enforced against the groups who give out food on the edge of Moore Square — not in the park, exactly, but on the sidewalk.

A permit to use Moore Square is apparently $800 a day. That's an absurd amount, in my opinion, for groups that don't want the whole park, just a tiny corner of it. The park in front of my house allows picnics by permit, and it costs $25 — or it did the last time I was aware of the amount. $800 is what you charge Budweiser for a beerfest that draws thousands to Moore Square and results in a ton of litter that the city must remove.

Giving out food to the homeless ought to qualify for some lesser — much lesser — amount. Or a fee that's waived if you clean up after yourself.

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