Standing up with the hungry
Posted: Monday, August 26, 2013 12:36 am | Updated: 12:38 am, Mon Aug 26, 2013.
Protesters gathered Sunday evening at Moore Square in response to a series of cease and desist requests targeted at groups distributing food to the homeless.
The latest cease and desist request was enforced Saturday morning when the Raleigh Police department, in accordance with a city ordinance, forbade Hugh “The Reverend” Hollowell and his Love Wins Ministry from distributing coffee and breakfast to area homeless people.
“It seemed less like ‘get the people out of the park’ and more like ‘how do we punish homeless people,” Hollowell said.
According to Hollowell his group had handed out breakfast on Saturdays and Sundays for 6 years before the cease and desist request on August 24th.
Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane attended the event to reassure protesters and charitable organizations that no arrests will be made for handing out food at Moore Square.
According to McFarlane at least 32 different groups distribute food at Moore Square. She also said that more homeless people might have their needs met if these groups were more evenly distributed across the city.
“We’ve gotten to where there are so many people coming and and bringing food and wanting to help that it is almost sometimes overwhelming,” McFarlane said.
City officials provided little information as to why police recently enforced the ordinance after years of interaction between organizations and homeless people, though McFarlane and City Councilman Russ Stephenson both cited an overabundance of groups donating and haphazardly dropping off food as reason for reform.
Donald Zepp, leader of Humans Beans Together and former professor of entomology at Cornell Univeristy, said that the police disallowing the distribution of food “came as a complete surprise considering we had police officers previously coming over to us to say ‘thank you for being here’ and ‘we appreciate what you are doing here.’”
Zepp also said he familiarized himself with the city ordinance that prohibits the distribution of food and it could theoretically be applied to extent that “if you’re here with your family and you feed your kid a sandwich, you’re breaking the ordinance.”
Hollowell expressed a surprise similar to that of Zepp, stating that “When a man with a gun tells you that you’re not permitted to do something, what do you do?”
“We are not the mayor’s enemies, we are not the City of Raleigh’s enemies,” Hollowell said. He mentioned that during a conversation with Mayor McFarlane she expressed her own surprise toward the incident and assured him that Love Wins would not be arrested if it returned the following Saturday.
Jes Cronmiller of Food Not Bombs, a political organization that frequently distributes food in Moore Square, noted that the number of people picking up food on Sunday afternoon was below normal. Many of her regulars had forgone acquiring food out of a fear of being ticketed or arrested by the police.
The sentiment of many of the protesters in attendance was that the police overextended their reach and used an obscure ordinance to remove homeless citizens from the park.
According to McFarlane, lawmakers and public safety officials will meet this week to address the future of food distribution in Moore Square and across the city. In the meantime, Love Wins, Food Not Bombs and Human Beans Together plan to conduct their food-giving schedules as normally as they are allowed.