Raleigh moves toward solution for Moore Square food handouts

ccampbell@newsobserver.comNovember 26, 2013 

— Food handouts for the homeless and indigent in downtown’s Moore Square will likely move just a few yards from the city park starting this spring.

A City Council committee on Tuesday unanimously backed a $110,000 plan to spruce up a warehouse behind the old Salvation Army building and host charity distributions each weekend. The temporary solution garnered support from charities, city staffers and business owners in October and goes before the full City Council next week.

“It’s an opportunity where folks can get out of the weather and out of the outdoors and find a place to sit down together and have that age-old communion of sharing a meal,” said David Smoot, who leads the Raleigh/Wake Partnership to End and Prevent Homelessness.

The recommendation came from a series of community meetings after 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 alternatives to handouts in Moore Square, and city staff members decided that the Salvation Army site is the best option. In December, the council will allocate money for the proposed distribution center, which would need bathrooms, handwashing stations and security officers.

City leaders are hoping community groups will step up to raise money for the project; Assistant City Manager Dan Howe said the $110,000 price tag is “a worst-case budget.” But he didn’t have specifics about where the money will come from, and Councilman John Odom says he’s curious.

“I wonder where we’re going to get this money from,” Odom said. “Maybe we’re going to have to take this from the arts funding.”

Howe said Wake County has expressed support for the plan but hasn’t pledged any money. That drew criticism from Councilman Randy Stagner.

“It seems to me the county shouldn’t stiff-arm this process,” Stagner said.

Raleigh bought the Salvation Army building for $2.1 million last year when the organization moved to a new home on Capital Boulevard. The goal is to eventually sell the property to developers, but city officials expect that won’t happen for two to 10 years. That prompted concerns from Odom, who worries that the temporary center could affect the city’s long-term investment.

“I’m in support of helping, but I wish we’d find another location,” he said, though he voted to support the plan.

Within six months, city and county leaders will begin hashing out details for building a permanent food distribution center.

The temporary site won’t be open on weekdays when a downtown soup kitchen is in operation. And the location isn’t the only new option for charities. As the food issue drew attention in recent months, several organizations have offered up space on weekends, including the Episcopal church parking lot at 200 W. Morgan St., Catholic Charities’ parking lot at 2013 Capital Blvd., and three lots owned by Wake County on South Wilmington Street, Swinburne Street and Sunnybrook Road.

City officials hope to publicize those options, as well as the location of existing food handouts that many people aren’t aware of. The list already includes 11 monthly or weekly food distributions scattered throughout the city. Some are at unusual locations, like the third Saturday handouts hosted by Eastbridge Church at the Circle K gas station on New Bern Avenue.

The city plans an awareness campaign, budgeted to cost around $7,000.

Tuesday’s meeting, which saw no opposition to the plan, was a far cry from the heated, standing-room-only hearing held after the police crackdown in August. Hugh Hollowell of Love Wins Ministries said he’d still like an apology from the police department, but he’s behind the new plan.

Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin pointed out that the crowd of “angry people” in August had changed to a diverse group working together.

“I think we’ve made a lot of progress,” she said. “This is a valuable lesson learned about what we can do as a community.”

Campbell: 919-829-4802; Twitter: @RaleighReporter

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