by Jane Porter
Several members of Raleigh’s food distribution task force said they were unclear about the purpose of the group and still have questions about the ordinance that prohibits food distribution in city parks.
Held Thursday night, the meeting was the second of three before the task force will present recommendations to the City Council’s Law and Public Safety Committee on Nov. 26.
Though the task’s force’s official charge is “to identify, evaluate and recommend alternatives for food distribution to the less fortunate,” many members have said they want to continue to be allowed to distribute food to the homeless in public spaces, especially in Moore Square.
“I’m worried that we’re doing stuff on the outside that has no meaning,” one task force member said, “because we’re not addressing the issues of the city, like the ordinance.”
Dana Youst, community government coordinator for Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources, said that it is up to the task force to consider whether the ordinance is still appropriate, “because there has been a strong recommendation to continue to serve food in Moore Square Park. But we still have other things to consider, like bathrooms and hand-washing stations.”
But City Councilor Mary-Ann Baldwin, who has stated that she believes there is a better solution than handing out food to homeless people in Moore Square, said that at some point, the park is going to close for renovations.
“This is why we need to move forward on this,” Baldwin said, “because we need short-term and long-term solutions to issues. Feeding is a symptom of the real issue, which is how can we care for people in the community who need our help. These meetings need to be about a long-term vision of taking care of our community and we need to stop dwelling on Moore Square."
Another task force member said she was confused, because everything she has heard at the meetings so far has been about food distribution.
“We need short and long-term solutions for food distribution,” said assistant director for Parks and Rec, Scott Payne. “We’re here because of short-term solutions for food distribution and the long-term need for committed, holistic approaches to ending homelessness. It is a challenging and complex problem.”
Payne said he could not give an exact date for when renovations to Moore Square Park will begin because renovations are not funded in this year’s budget.At the heart of the discussion, which several task force members remarked on at the meeting, is the City’s ongoing failure to explain the sudden enforcement of the food distribution ordinance. “From the 2012 meeting, we talked about starting to educate people at Moore Square, because of concerns brought up at that meeting,” Youst said.
Task force members and many of the people who distribute food Raleigh’s homeless residents still maintain that the first they heard of the ordinance was when Raleigh police threatened them with arrest.