This is how my day has gone: Awakened at 6:32 AM by giant slurping dog and his smaller barky companion. By 6:40 AM dogs are slurping breakfast instead of me and I am staring at the unlit button on the coffeemaker willing it to turn green. I gave up on this and turned my attention to the app on my cellphone that, although uninstalled twice now, keeps popping back up like a technological dandelion. Green light? Still no green light. Fine, I’ll check my Facebook. Hmm. Post from a friend about trying to give a pill to her cat (good luck with that), Dr. Amen’s recipe for a brain-smart smoothie, and a headline: Feeding Homeless Apparently Illegal in Raleigh, NC. I am fairly certain I should have checked the coffeemaker next but I read the article sans caffeine instead.
It seems that soup kitchens in Raleigh are only open Monday-Friday and folks from Love Wins and Human Beans Together have been visiting Moore Park in Raleigh every Saturday and Sunday for about 6 years and passing out coffee and sausage biscuits to homeless people there. Yesterday they were met by a coffee-carrying police officer who informed them that if they gave food and coffee to homeless people in the park they would be arrested. When the volunteers asked why, Officer-With-Coffee wouldn’t give a reason and said “take it up with City Council.” I work daily at trying to be less judgmental and tried not to begin mentally flogging Officer-With-Coffee. Maybe he was just having a bad day. The Raleigh PD’s website says they have 777 sworn officers engaged in “service, courage, integrity, compassion and fairness.” They sound like a bunch of people with whom I could comfortably swill latte. Perhaps Officer-With-Coffee was right and it’s all about the City Council. This would require research and (yes, the green light is on!) a large purple plastic travel mug filled with coffee and a glug of half & half.
According to the 2010 Census, there are 416,468 people living in Raleigh. On March 5, 2013, the City Council met and heard the Partnership to End Homelessness’ report. According to the report Raleigh has about 1,098 homeless people: 203 veterans, 229 domestic violence victims, 280 families with children, and the remainder made up of people with substance and mental health issues. This report also mentions “what will be done when Moore Square Park closes for renovation as it relates to the regular unorganized provisions of meals by various programs.” Yes, there is a 2013 Action Plan for city rejuvenation and renovation. Citizens who attended a council meeting were asked what changes they would like to see at Moore Square Park. From the “unedited public comments” section on “values,” 21% of the responses address the presence of homeless people and an additional 20% of the comments vocalize fear of homeless people–It is a family space and should not be dominated by homeless people. What about those homeless families with kids? It needs to be a safe place. Safe for those homeless domestic violence victims, too? Also available for adults to sit and relax. …as long as they’re not homeless veterans or people with mental health diagnoses.
Reading all of this made me think about what it would be like to have a program like Literacy & Hope running there. Would I be run out of the park for passing out books to homeless adults and children? And what would be next? Will they fine Panera and force them to trash their end-of-day bread rather than give it to shelters? Could it become illegal to take a bag of groceries to an out-of-work neighbor or your granny? Re-reading all of the commentary, it becomes apparent that this isn’t really about passing out food to hungry people or even about homeless people. It’s about fear. Our fear about them. You know, them–the ones who aren’t part of us or even like us.
One city, one park, one organization cannot obliterate fear anymore than a government can legislate or de-legislate kindness. It requires paying attention to us and them. The dictionary defines these words identically: used as the object of a verb or preposition to refer to two or more people. It doesn’t say two or more of the right kind of people, or two or more similar people–we are the ones who choose to add those labels. We are the ones who can choose to rethink them. What if there is no them? Just us.
Some of us are hungry.
Some of us are illiterate.
Some of us have no home.
Each of us has the ability to impact the life of another of us. With compassion? With fear?
Each of us has a choice.
One more thing, before I get a coffee refill–I didn’t see any information about how the volunteers disposed of the dozens of sausage biscuits and gallons of hot coffee it would have been illegal to feed homeless folks in Moore Park. My research turned up no laws or Council notes indicating it’s illegal to feed feral cats or stray dogs in Raleigh. So, perhaps, there are some sated but highly caffeinated critters skittering around the city. And, perhaps, tomorrow morning you could share your coffee and bread with some of us.