A year’s worth of emails between Raleigh administrators and police reveal that the city, concerned about crime and litter, has long discussed whether to tolerate groups feeding the homeless in Moore Square Park.
This has led advocates for the homeless to believe the sudden enforcement of a 14-year-old city ordinance prohibiting food distribution in public parks and greenways may not have been spontaneous after all.
“(The city) assured us this was not an ongoing thing, there was no plot to get us out and they were just trying to educate us,” said Hugh Hollowell, executive director of Love Wins Ministries, said in an interview Tuesday. On Aug. 25, officers threatened Hollowell with arrest for feeding homeless people.
“But it turns out there had been long-running conversations. We feel like there is an element of distrust in the relationship because of that, and it colors how we see their efforts.”
Now Raleigh leaders are dealing with the fallout from the Aug. 25 police action in the park, saying they are trying to develop “better” solutions than giving away food to the homeless there. Mayor Nancy McFarlane and City Council have told police to temporarily allow groups to continue distributing food.
Neither McFarlane nor other council members were included on any of the emails the INDY reviewed.
Conversations about the homeless and Moore Square Park began at least a year ago, when, at an Aug. 28, 2012, meeting at Marbles Kids Museum, adjacent to Moore Square Park, neighborhood residents made it a priority to “address the distribution of food to the less fortunate in Moore Square Park,” because of the crime and littering that purportedly accompanied such activities.
Since early 2011, there have been 3,400 police calls to Moore Square, according to Raleigh Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown. Of 162 incident reports, police logged one murder, six robberies, 30 assaults and 46 drug violations.
In February 2013, public records show, Raleigh police requested permission from Parks and Recreation to “trespass” patrons of Moore Square Park who have felonies and serious misdemeanors. “RPD is seeing offenders continue to be charged with drug deals, sexual exposure and violent fights in the park and then seeing the same patrons return,” wrote community-oriented government coordinator Dana Youst in an email to Diane Sauer, director of Parks and Recreation, on Feb. 28.
After clearing the move with the city attorney, Sauer approved the “procedure to have suspects trespassed from Moore Square permanently, for the following offenses: felonies and misdemeanors including assault, drugs, arson, vandalism to public property, indecent exposure, sex crimes and urinating and defecating in public.”
But the situation didn’t improve. In March, Sgt. John Marx emailed Raleigh police in downtown District D: “I just wanted to remind everyone that the distribution of food in Moore Square Park is illegal. Currently the distribution of food along sidewalks adjoining Moore Square is tolerated but we are working with several service providers to provide an alternate downtown feeding site in preparation for the eventual redevelopment of the park.”
It’s unclear when the city decided to crack down on food distribution, but in early July, Youst wrote in an email, “the park has gotten extremely worse with the feedings over the last month … we may be looking at feedings on the sidewalks and ordinance change possibilities.”
On July 10, public affairs director Jayne Kirkpatrick wrote in an email to city staff, “We are developing a public information campaign on the harm that is done by persons feeding the homeless in Moore Square.”
Two days later, Lt. Kevin Carswell gave the “first verbal warning” about the ordinance to a woman who was part of a group distributing food in the park.
“I explained (the ordinance) to her and suggested she donate food to the soup kitchen and let them distribute in the designated location,” Carswell wrote. “She, of course, balked at that and told me she would back next week. I told her she would be cited next time.”
On Aug. 11, Sgt. A.C. Pugh reported that he “warned” the group Human Beans about the city code, and its members said they had not been aware of it.
Last Monday evening, more than 100 people gathered at Marbles Kids Museum to brainstorm about ways to distribute food to the homeless. No homeless people were present.
The public consensus was that because of its size and proximity to public transportation and public bathrooms, Moore Square is the best place to distribute food. The city, residents said, should try to address the problems, rather than try to drive people out.