Charity food handouts in Moore Square could move to a warehouse behind the old Salvation Army building – a temporary solution approved by charities, city staffers and business owners Tuesday night.
The recommendation wrapped up a series of community meetings following an August incident in which charities said they were threatened with arrest for feeding the homeless and indigent downtown.
Charity and business leaders had floated a list of possible alternatives to handouts in Moore Square, and city staff members announced that the Salvation Army site is the best option. The city owns the site and would offer it up to charities for several years while planning a permanent handout site.
None of the charities at Tuesday’s meeting objected to the proposal. “I’m really excited about all the things that have come forward tonight,” said Alice McGee of the charity Church in the Woods.
The Raleigh City Council could act on the recommendation as early as December. The council will have to budget money to spruce up the empty building and add temporary restrooms and hand-washing facilities. City officials are working on cost estimates. The plan is to bring in modular bathrooms similar to those used for events at the Red Hat Amphitheater.
The handout site would be open only on weekends, when soup kitchens are closed and numerous charities descend on Moore Square. For now, groups will still be allowed to distribute food in Moore Square and on surrounding sidewalks without a special permit.
The temporary warehouse site could be in use for several years, but it can’t be permanent. Raleigh bought the property for $2.1 million last year when the Salvation Army moved to new digs on Capital Boulevard. The goal is to eventually sell it to a private developer, but assistant city manager Dan Howe said that won’t happen for two to 10 years.
With the main building at the former shelter now empty, some groups questioned why the food handouts can’t happen in the kitchen area there.
“It was not the best option for us to utilize the inside of that building,” said Dana Youst, community oriented government coordinator for the city. “The challenge is securing the rooms that you’re not using.”
Youst said other suggested locations were ruled out for a variety of reasons. Raleigh City Hall would pose security concerns because the 911 call center operates there around the clock. Moore Square Middle School is rented out on weekends. And business owners at City Market don’t want charities to take up their parking spaces.
The city also considered keeping food handouts in Moore Square permanently, Youst said. But the park will close for renovations in the coming years, and fairness issues arise when park rental fees are dropped for some groups but not others.
If the City Council approves the plan in December, the warehouse site could open within two to three months, Howe said. And within six months, city and county leaders will begin hashing out details for building a permanent food distribution center.
That project could secure funding as soon as next summer, Howe said. “This is not going to be cheap,” he said. “This will be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars at minimum.”
But despite the cost, charities and business owners – some of whom have complained about trash and crime associated with food handouts – are backing the plan.
“I think it’s a fabulous solution,” said Parker Kennedy, owner of Caffe Luna next to the square. “I’m ready to go to the next step.”