Local leaders are stepping up efforts to find a new gathering place near uptown for volunteers to feed the homeless.
They hope the new spot – which officials want to announce within 45days – could help end the large crowds along a popular spot on Phifer Avenue known as “The Wall” where the homeless have convened for years to get a free meal.
For now, officials are looking into whether it is possible to move the meals to or near the Urban Ministry Center, said Peter Safir, homeless services director for Mecklenburg County. He said many people who get meals also frequent the center.
Liz Clasen, associate director for Urban Ministry, said the organization wants to partner with local leaders to find a solution. But she said the group has concerns about moving the meals to Urban Ministry, including how to staff and provide other resources for the program.
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In addition, Clasen said some of the volunteer groups include a sermon with their meal program. She said while she supports those groups, she is worried about requiring people to listen to a sermon to get a free meal.
Questions arose over the meals last month after Charlotte-Mecklenburg police stepped up patrols near the site because of complaints from nearby business owners.
The news prompted prominent Charlotte attorneys Bill Diehl and Tom Bush to threaten a possible federal lawsuit against the city because they said the police should not harass nor intimidate people on a public street.
Juan Carlos Combs opened the Rustic Martini bar on North Tryon Street next to “The Wall” last year. He said while he is not against offering meal programs for the homeless, he is worried about people trespassing and loitering on his property, as well as trash left behind. He said his employees also have had to clean up after people who have use the bathroom on his property.
He said he has lost customers and some employees because of the large number of homeless who linger by his bar. “It's crippling my business,” Combs said.
Safir said leaders want to find a solution that will work for business owners, the homeless and the volunteers who offer the free meals.
County staff recently convened a group to work on the project, including representatives from the city of Charlotte, Center City Partners and community organizations like Urban Ministry.
Safir said the group wants to find a location with seating, shade, security, fencing or some other physical restraint. They also want to have garbage bins or receptacles at the site.
Leaders recently began trying to clean up trash at the site. They're also updating a list of community groups or residents who offer meals to the homeless to help, among other things, coordinate the work that is going on.
“We would like to create a win-win-win for all parties,” Safir said, “which we believe is possible.”