RALEIGH — More than 100 people came out Monday night for a city-sponsored meeting to discuss alternatives to feeding the homeless and indigent in Moore Square – but many of the groups present said they don’t want to move far.
The meeting came three weeks after several charities said they were threatened with arrest for handing out food in the downtown park. City leaders have suspended a ban on food distributions, and they’re looking for a long-term solution with input from stakeholders.
“I’m hoping that together we’ll find some common ground tonight,” said Debra King, director of the nonprofit CASA, who facilitated the forum.
The consensus among many charities was that food sharing must stay downtown, where bus and other services are readily available. They said the location should have bathrooms, hand-washing stations and frequent garbage pick-ups. Some suggested the city should provide an indoor kitchen to facilitate the good deeds.
Lonnette Williams, a Southeast Raleigh community leader, said the old Salvation Army building – now owned by the city – could be an ideal spot. “Put that to use,” she said.
Love Win Ministries Director Hugh Hollowell was among several charity leaders upset about the meeting’s focus on finding locations outside Moore Square.
“This was sold to us as a way to begin dialogue, a way to have a conversation,” he said. “It turns out it’s none of that. It’s a predetermined outcome.”
“There are no foregone conclusions here,” City Councilman Bonner Gaylord said. The goal isn’t necessarily to move food distribution out of Moore Square, he said.
Gaylord was the only elected official in attendance because the meeting conflicted with an election forum.
Hollowell also disapproved of the venue for the meeting, Marbles Kids Museum, because of comments made by the museum’s director at a recent public hearing. “She implied that her patrons are more valuable to the city than the people in the park,” he said. “This doesn’t exactly feel like an impartial setting.”
The meeting came one day after The News & Observer published emails showing that city officials – some of whom were leading Monday’s meeting – sought legal advice on how to push out charities and suspected criminals to “clean up” Moore Square.
Hollowell says he doesn’t have much faith in city staff after reading the emails and accused them of lying to him when they claimed they were unaware of how the police crackdown came about.
“They’ve consulted lawyers to figure out how to get me out of Moore Square,” he said. “We’re dealing with people who have demonstrated their untrustworthiness.”
Not every group, however, is unwilling to leave Moore Square. Recognizing that the park eventually will close for renovations, Brown Bag Ministry recently moved a few blocks north to a state-owned parking lot.
David Legarth, a member of the group, said the goal is to establish a permanent location.
“One of the most important things for us is continuity – always being there,” he said.
The next step is to form a task force to offer recommendations to the City Council in November, when they’ll vote on a solution.
King said Monday’s meeting was a strong start. “For as many differing groups as we have here, the same common themes came up again and again,” she said.