When Charity is Illegal

From Hugh Hollowell (http://lovewins.info/2013/08/feeding-homeless-apparently-illegal-in-raleigh-nc/):

This morning we showed up at Moore Square at 9:00 a.m., just like we have done virtually every Saturday and Sunday for the last six years. We provide, without cost or obligation, hot coffee and a breakfast sandwich to anyone who wants one. We keep this promise to our community in cooperation with five different large suburban churches that help us with manpower and funding.

Today officers from Raleigh Police Department prevented us from doing our work, for the first time ever. An officer said, quite bluntly, that if we attempted to distribute food, we would be arrested.

Our partner church brought 100 sausage biscuits and large amounts of coffee. We asked the officers for permission to disperse the biscuits to the over 70 people who had lined up, waiting to eat. They said no. I had to face those who were waiting and tell them that I could not feed them, or I would be arrested.

In the past, we have had a good working relationship with the Raleigh Police Department. We knew that we could not use the park itself, as doing so required a permit, but that it was fine if we wanted to set up on the sidewalk, as long as we did not block the sidewalk and cleaned up after ourselves. We have operated, unmolested, under this assumption for the last six years.

By the way, each permit to use the park costs $800. Yes, eight hundred dollars. That would cost us $1,600 every weekend, and the officer we spoke to said the City likely wouldn’t approve it anyway.

Now, however, we are hearing that we can’t distribute food at the park, period. No representative from the Raleigh Police Department was willing to tell us which ordinance we were breaking, or why, after six years and countless friendly and cooperative encounters with the Department, they are now preventing us from feeding hungry people.

When I asked the officer why, he said that he was not going to debate me. “I am just telling you what is. Now you pass out that food, you will go to jail.”

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Jeremy B.

    And people wonder why there’s a lot of animosity directed towards cops. We had the same issue in my town where the cops shut down a similar thing in an office parking lot (we owned the building so permission wasn’t a concern). It really boiled down to someone at the city wanting the undesirables to go somewhere else, as if you could somehow starve the homeless out.

  • Jeremy B.

    Also, the article link is wrong somehow. It’s sending off to a pharmacy site. Either that or they’ve been hacked.

  • http://bookwi.se/ Adam Shields

    Here is the link to the correct article until Scot gets the other one fixed http://lovewins.info/2013/08/feeding-homeless-apparently-illegal-in-raleigh-nc/

  • http://www.realworldpregnancycalendar.com/ Austin Lee

    Google is indicating that their site may be hacked.

  • Karl

    Usually they tie it to food distribution without a health permit.

  • Sean P. Nelson

    Shameful and disgusting… how can this be happening??? Don’t the police – by law – have to inform citizens of what law is being broken to be able to order a “cease and desist or else” order?

  • RJS4DQ

    I am not sure if lovewins is hacked or if Patheos is hacked. Clicking on your link redirects as well.

    When I paste the link into my browser it seems to work.

  • attytjj466

    Charity is not illegal in Raleigh and the piece misses the clear and obvious problem here and it has nothing to do with unfair treatment or bad police or anything like that. This is a whiney piece, nothing more. There are health laws that protect everyone and applies to food given to people to eat on a significant level and this had become significant. Whether you sell food, like McDonalds or give it away like a soup kichen, you have to comply with those laws. Inspection, compliance with many kinds of rules on food prep, food storage, food healthiness, etc.

    They got to do something for six years they they probably should not have been allowed to do. So they got the break. Prob because they started small. But it grew and it finally got too big. Food must be safe, and if people get sick, lawsuits will be filed. Cities don’t want to be responsible by allowing something they know is technically not legal. And that could lead to very real legal liability, or put the public at risk healthwise. There are better ways to do this, that would create no such issues.

  • attytjj466

    And if in six years, no one in leadership in at least one of these five large suburban churches ever asked or questioned and made sure the food distribution was in compliance with city ordinances, it was a significant leadedship failure in regards to this food distribution ministry.

  • Ernie

    You might have some incorrect assumptions here. The updates to the article (http://www.redletterchristians.org/feeding-homeless-apparently-illegal-in-raleigh-nc/) indicate that the food distribution will go on, and the mayor assured all involved that no one would be arrested. We will see how the meetings with the city council go. What is needed is the official police department version of what city ordinance was being violated.

  • attytjj466

    I read the whole piece. I stand by my comments. The city is saying hey, we are not against feeding people, but lets find a way to do this legally. Frankly, that is what the ministry should have said, instead of demonizing the city and the police. And also this strikes me as being as much about publicity and attention as it is about feeding the homeless. Because there are other proper, albeit less publicity driven way to really feed the homeless, and not just pass out coffee and sausage McMufins in a park on Saturday or Sunday to whoever says they want one. Just saying.

  • ak

    Please remember that these are people of God working hard to bring compassion into this world.

    Calling Hollowell’s writing “whiny” is a derogatory and unnecessarily argumentative word choice. It doesn’t honor his compassion and commitment to caring for others. While he may be choosing means with which you take issue, it doesn’t make him whiny.

    And, for what it’s worth, the issue doesn’t seem to be about food distribution/food-safety, but space-usage/litter concerns (http://www.wral.com/raleigh-city-leaders-to-meet-wednesday-over-moore-square-food-flap/12818647/).

  • Susan_G1

    If love wins, why didn’t Hollowell et al pass out the food? How would that be different from aiding voter registration in the South? A mass arrest would have brought the attention of the press and the ire of citizens down on Raleigh officials. I thought that when laws were not in keeping with God’s Greater Law, we were allowed (even obligated) to break the law. Jesus said, feed the hungry.

    I think obedience of the (possibly non-existent) law here hurts our message to non-believers, let alone the hungry. The arrests would most likely have disappeared, or the arrested would be sentenced to a short period of probation and their records expunged. No harm would have been done; inconvenience would have been suffered.

    I read his article and am a harsh critic, I admit, but after reading this piece, am even more sure that they chose the easy, not the right, path, especially as they congratulate themselves for pressing on to do the right thing.
    —–
    http://lovewins.info/2013/08/feeding-homeless-apparently-illegal-in-raleigh-nc/
    Edited to add, seems it was a litter/rats problem. http://www.wral.com/raleigh-city-leaders-to-meet-wednesday-over-moore-square-food-flap/12818647/

  • Ernie

    But, initially at least, it seems like the city or police are not interested in solving the problem. From the article:

    “By the way, each permit to use the park costs $800. Yes, eight hundred dollars. That would cost us $1,600 every weekend, and the officer we spoke to said the City likely wouldn’t approve it anyway.”

    I am hopeful that this can be resolved in a way that allows the homeless to be fed.

  • Travis Greene

    Wrong. They had interactions with the police for years. If it was a problem they would have known. Also, even if it was against some ordinance, then questioning that ordinance would be in order, yes? Not all laws are just.

  • Travis Greene

    Yes, they fed people for 6 years just waiting for this to happen so they could get publicity. That’s it.

  • Randy Gabrielse

    I saw several statements regarding “They did this for six years and….”

    First, I agree that the parties involved should at some point have investigated the legality of their process and the public officials’ view of it, not because they need legal permission, but out of understanding and knowing their mission field.
    Second, the police and other public officials should have provided explanation, rather than refusing to “debate” the order or tell anything about where the order came from.
    Third, WITH THESE FIVE OR MORE CHURCHES WORKING ON THIS IN RALEIGH, DID ANYONE EVER SPEAK TO THE HUNGRY AND HOMELESS OR SPEAK TO CITY OFFICIALS OR BUSINESS PEOPLE ABOUT HOW TO REDUCE HOMELESS AND HUNGER?

    Peace

  • Dianne P

    We experienced a similar situation in Phoenix. The police made the ministry leave the park. I don’t know the official reason given by the police, but the ministry leader understood that we were drawing a large number of homeless to the park – which was also used by families, children, etc. Would you like a hundred homeless fed in the park where your children play? The park and nearby areas were where the homeless slept, but we understood the concern.

    So, we moved to a church, and then the real problems started. As many street people don’t like to come inside a church, we set up tables and shade in the parking lot. Breakfast was followed by a service with communion. Some neighbors complained. We were told that we were illegally running a “charity dining hall”. Chaos ensued. Councilmen, the bishop, the mayor, police, news cameras. We were sensitive to the surrounding neighbors and wanted to work with them, but they just wanted the homeless out of that church. Sadly, it was just for a once a week Saturday morning breakfast.

    FWIW, we made the national news:

    http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-703370

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/11/12/judge-orders-phoenix-chur_n_355902.html

    Both the left (social justice) and the right (the government can’t tell Christians what to do) offered to take the legal case. Our ministry leader did not want to be divisive, and we stopped having the breakfasts. After trying to address the issue in a collaborative manner over 15 months, the ministry moved on. They bought and rehabbed a home in the neighborhood where people may drop in, and most importantly, they are now focusing on the youth in the neighborhood, hoping to prevent homelessness.This is the ministry:http://www.prodigalshome.org

    My question is, so if churches feed people in association with a church service – donuts and coffee on Sunday anyone? – is that forbidden if some of those people are homeless? It’s a complicated issue.


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