When Charity to the Homeless is a Crime
Local ministries run afoul of the law for feeding the homeless
Saturday morning, Raleigh failed to live up to a recent accolade – one of the most hospitable of America’s cities. In fairness, the accolade, touted on the city’s website, was for services provided to guests. Raleigh showed that it doesn’t think of the homeless as guests and, worse, that it doesn’t really care if they go without food on the weekends.
Saturday and Sundays the homeless in downtown Raleigh have been fed by volunteer organizations for the past 6 years, as there are no other formal feeding programs in place on the weekends. The task has been shared by several different groups that carry food to Moore Square. One such group called Love Wins Ministries, led by Hugh Hollowell, was threatened with arrest Saturday morning after showing up with biscuits and coffee. Officially, according to Hollowell, the groups do not use the park but distribute food on the sidewalk bordering the park.
In spite of the distinction, police, who refused to cite the ordinance or explain the nature of the infraction, told the group that if they attempted to distribute the food they had brought they would be arrested. City Code Section 9-2022 requires individuals or groups to secure a permit from the Parks, Recreation and Greenway Director, a position currently held by Diane Sauer, before distributing meals or food of any kind in or on any city park. As the term distribute is not defined, the same ordinance would appear to require a permit should a person purchase food, bring it to the park and distribute it among family members. For Love Wins Ministries and the other groups that have taken on this mission, the homeless are part of the family of God and feeding them is an act of obedience to the commands of Jesus Christ.
Regardless of the reasons for the heightened scrutiny, the manner in which this has been handled by the city and the police is embarrassing. The groups that have served the homeless each weekend for the past 6 years, to the city’s benefit and at their own expense, were not acting covertly. If the city feels a need to change this method of feeding the poor it should have had the decency to call these groups together and work out a viable alternative instead of creating a confrontation, intimidating citizens and threatening arrest
Raleigh can do better. I would encourage the City Council to persuade Ms. Sauer to waive all costs and issue whatever permits are required for as long as it takes to develop an alternative means of addressing the problem. In the meantime, perhaps the councilors would be well served to join in the effort and show a little bit of that hospitality for which the city is known.
You can find Love Wins Ministries blog about Saturday’s events HERE.
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