On Saturday, August 24, 2013, Love Wins Ministries set up a table in Moore Square to hand out biscuits and coffee to a long line of homeless people. The ministry had been doing this every weekend for the past 6 years. However, this time they were stopped. A Raleigh police officer told them that if they attempted to continue to feed the homeless, they would be arrested.
Love Wins Ministries and many other organizations had been feeding the homeless at Moore Square for years, but it had never been a problem. As it turns out, there was a city ordinance in place that required organizations to obtain a permit to hand out food in public parks. While this may not sound like a big problem, the permits cost $800 per day.
Many of the organizations that use Moore Square to feed the homeless are run by volunteers. Under this ordinance, they simply could not afford to feed the homeless any more. News coverage of the issue went viral in the nation, and sparked a lot of outrage. As a result, the city worked together with the organizations to create a solution: the Oak City Outreach Center.
The center is essentially a soup kitchen, but organized a little differently. Raleigh’s other soup kitchens are only open during the week; however, the homeless community still needs a place to eat on the weekend. This is where the Oak City Outreach Center comes into play. The Center is located at 215 1/2 South Person Street, Raleigh, North Carolina. Every Saturday and Sunday different groups and organizations, organized by Raleigh Catholic Charities, set up inside a warehouse to provide breakfast, lunch and dinner to the homeless community.
Many of the people who volunteer have been volunteering for many years. Toni Meyer, for example, has been volunteering for 10 years, and knows many of the homeless people by name. Meyer is a parishioner at Sacred Heart Cathedral, one of the organizations that feeds the homeless.
Despite the struggle to find somewhere to continue charity work, the center ended up being an improvement. “People aren’t getting rained on and it’s not wet and cold, they’ve got something cold to drink, they’ve got coffee when the coffee maker gets…fired up, they’ve got a place to sit, they’ve got a place to come during the day instead of hanging out in the park, [it’s] very much an improvement,” said Meyer.
The center also provides a police officer to ensure the safety of the volunteers and the people utilizing the center.
As of January 2014, Raleigh had 1,170 homeless people. “Homeless” is defined as literally homeless, meaning that they are staying in a shelter, or places not meant for humans to live.
The Oak City Outreach Center aims to serve the majority of homeless people.“[The center is] important because it…meets a need that this population has…that’s that food aspect because there aren’t very many places in Raleigh to get a meal on the weekends if you are homeless, [there aren’t] a lot of places you can go because the soup kitchen [is] closed…there are a couple of churches that do provide meals here and there but there’s not a place that’s consistent where they can go, so Oak City is important because it provides that consistent place where they can receive that nourishment on the weekends,” said Tosheria Savage, the coordinator for the center.
On Saturday, December 13, I was at the Oak City Outreach Center to witness the volunteer work myself. At least 100 homeless people–men, women and children–started to line up about half an hour before serving time at 4 p.m. Once inside, each person was handed a bag containing two bologna sandwiches, a hard boiled egg, something salty, something sweet, a banana and a bottle of water. Then, they moved down the line to receive a bowl of lasagna, and dessert. Unfortunately, on many occasions demand exceeds supply and there is not enough food for everyone. This was true on December 13.
The Oak City Outreach Center has a goal to work hard to “close the hunger gap”. Last summer’s controversy was this fall’s success as volunteers continue to work hard to feed the homeless and help their community.