On Saturday, for the first time in six years, Hugh Hollowell and his charitable organization, Love Wins, were told that they couldn’t hand out breakfast biscuits to the homeless in Raleigh’s Moore Square.  On Sunday, the same thing happened to Church in the Woods.  They were also told they could not hand out meals to the homeless in Moore Square and were forced to find another makeshift location to get through the day.  Hugh Hollowell blogged about it.  The News & Observer reported the story.  Even the Huffington Post picked it up.

The issue is permits.  Raleigh requires you to get a permit if you want to hand out food in a public park – at a cost of $800 per day.  That’s $1600 per weekend, or more than $83,000 per year.  We’re talking about handing out sausage biscuits, and fruit, and coffee, and other simple food to hungry people.  Who exactly thinks it’s a good idea to add $83,000 in overhead to organizations that want to do that kind of work?

Hugh Hollowell makes an interesting point in his blog post about all of this.  Actually, he makes lots of good points, and he does so with remarkable grace.  But let me just hit on this one.

On the weekends, the city doesn’t provide any taxpayer-funded meal programs for the homeless.  And I think that’s a good thing.  I’ll say it again; I think it is a good thing that the city does not provide meals through tax-payer funded programs on weekends.  Is it because I want people to be hungry?  Absolutely not.  It’s because, when the government steps back, private charitable organizations step up.  And those groups do the job better.

These groups are providing the service at no cost to taxpayers.  They’re just people helping other people.  Taxpayers don’t have to buy the food or pay employees to prepare and distribute it.  I have no idea how much it would cost the city to provide this same service, but given that Love Wins and Church in the Woods are both using volunteers, this has to cost a lot less than the city doing it.

So these organizations are already saving the city money.  Now we want to charge them $83,000 a year for the privilege?

Even more importantly, this fosters the kind of society in which I want to live, a society that is better and stronger because it’s based on the voluntary actions of people.  As I wrote last year,

I prefer my charity warm. I like living in a society where real people help each other rather than looking first to bureaucracy. I think we’re better off when people are able to call a friend or a brother instead of fighting through the red tape of a government hotline. So rather than pushing government programs on people, let’s celebrate the fact that people are first helping themselves and each other. Those are signs of a strong society. Long may they continue.

If we need to have a conversation with charities about where they hand out food, let’s do that.  Maybe Moore Square isn’t the right place.  Maybe we need to find somewhere other than a public park.  I think we could probably figure out a location.  But threatening arrest and requiring prohibitively expensive permits is certainly not the right response.