(Photo: Facebook / Love Wins)
Despite Raleigh, N.C., city administrators' public remarks that they were caught off guard when a Christian ministry was shutdown by police in August for feeding the homeless, recently released emails suggest that the shutdown had been planned for months.
Love Wins Ministries, which until August had served food at a park to the homeless on weekends for six years, wrote on its blog Thursday that emails published by Raleigh's News and Observer showed that city officials had "been colluding for months" to end the feeding program.
An email dated July 10 from Public Affairs Director Jayne Kirkpatrick indicates that she sent a video team to Moore Square to capture footage for "a public education campaign on the harm that is done by persons feeding the homeless in Moore Square."
She specifically asked for "photos of the feedings, the debris that remains, the rodents, the collection by (trash crews). I need extensive footage."
In an email to City Attorney Tom McCormick on July 11, Raleigh Parks and Recreation Director Diane Sauer criticized the work of those feeding the poor.
"Is there anything we can do from a legal perspective to stop the feeding around Moore Square? I recognize this is a very sensitive topic, but it is truly out of control," she wrote.
Pastor and Director of Love Wins, Hugh Hollowell, wrote on the organization's blog Thursday that the emails flew in the face of everything the organization had been told the past month.
"All of this information is in direct contradiction with what every city staffer has told us," he wrote. "We have sat in countless private meetings and listened with patience and trust as public servants told us that no one has been working to remove groups like ours from Moore Square. That no one saw this coming. That everyone in the room wants to make sure that people experiencing homelessness eat three meals a day."
Since the emails began to be released two weeks ago, the city has not commented publicly or made an effort to reach out to Love Wins Ministries, despite the fact that many of the same city officials who sent the emails met personally with the organization.
"At this point, with those new city emails that have come out, I'm not really sure how we'll move forward from here, now that we have such a sense of distrust with the various people we have been meeting with," Sara Acosta, a spokesperson for Love Wins ministries told The Christian Post.
"We've had no communication from the city even since the first response two weeks ago from the first batch of emails that came out so it's just been radio silence from them. We go about our day doing our normal thing. In the meantime, the world is waiting to see how the city will respond," she added.
After shutting down a group, Raleigh Police Lt. Kevin Carswell wrote in an Aug. 12 email, "One guy just wanted to know how much the fine was and said that they would take the ticket and pay it. They didn't care. The truth is, they are chalking the fine up as a cost of doing business. It's all about making money."
Sgt. John Marx wrote on July 14 to his boss that Carswell "seemed pleased/laughed about the fact that he irritated several groups that are feeding on the sidewalks."
Stephen Smith, a commenter on the News and Observer page, identified himself as the "'guy' who offered to pay the fine," and said he did so "not as a 'price of doing business' but because we had volunteers with hundreds of dollars worth of food and hungry and thirsty people including children depending on us - on a very hot day."
"I am not a rich man...I'm just a concerned middle class citizen of Raleigh," Smith wrote. "If there is something inside a person that can enable them to tell children, 'Sorry kids, but there isn't going to be any food today.' - I don't have it, and I pray I never do."
While the city had officially prohibited individuals from distributing food in a park, Love Wins Ministry's "good working relationship with the Raleigh Police Department" permitted the group to distribute coffee and sausage biscuits to 70 low-income people weekly.
This all changed when police shutdown the breakfast on Aug. 24, without warning and without citing which ordinance or law authorized them to do so. In turn, they told Love Wins Ministry that the group's only option if they wished to stay open would be to obtain a park permit — a $1,600 weekly cost.
Shortly thereafter, Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane intervened and promised that Love Wins Ministries would be allowed to continue handing out food and City Council waived the permit, enabling the organization to continue their weekend efforts, which they have, without interruption, since the incident occurred.
Acosta said that Love Wins Ministries has been able to find the bright spots from what the group calls "#BiscuitGate."
"For us, it's been the overwhelming support from people because in this work it's easy to feel like you're the only four or five people in the world who care about this or in the nonprofit community it's easy to feel small. We received a lot of support and a lot of messages saying 'We like what you do. We really appreciate it.' So that is really encouraging," she said.
Anyone interested in helping the group can find more information on the Love Wins Ministries' website.