Moore Square Lives!

March, 31, 2009, by Jesse Benjamin

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I wonder if Meeker wakes up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, heart bursting out of his chest, screaming, “Moore Square! Moore Square!”

After all, downtown revitalization is Chuck’s legacy.  That and his revealing running shorts (Like Harry Caray said, “If you got good wheels, show ‘em off”.)  But mostly downtown revitalization.  And if you look back at everything that’s gone up and gone down in Raleigh over the past decade, it’s pretty impressive.  But if you’ve been in Raleigh more than a minute, you know that Moore Square hasn’t changed.  It’s still the State Capital’s capital of homeless folks.

Yeah,  the restaurants may change, bigger acts may come in to play Downtown Live, Exploris/Marbles may change names and focus every so often, but Raleighites know Moore Square because of the people who inhabit it, for good or bad.  When the momentum really gathered and the convention center was on the rise and Fayetteville Street was getting another make over, I wondered if our city fathers would find someway to clean out Moore Square, just for the sake of a revitalized and presentable downtown.

They haven’t and I don’t know if it’s because they couldn’t or didn’t want to.  Couldn’t has to be a big part of it.  Moore Square is surrounded by agencies that exist to help the homeless.  Raleigh Rescue Mission, the Women’s Center, and the Salvation Army are literally across the street.  Throw in the Good Shepherd Soup kitchen a few blocks over, the Wake County Men’s Shelter just down Wilmington Street, plus the bus station and yeah, you’re going to have a lot of homeless folks hanging around. 

I hope some of it was that they didn’t want to clean it out.  Moore Square and its people are as much a part of Raleigh as Char-Grill at this point.  I’m glad we haven’t found a way to sweep them aside into a dark corner of the city.  Moore Square is an intersecting space, where every walk of life, every background income level , whatever subset you want to name, can coexist, even for a small amount of time. Just the fact that the professional class can walk the park without fear of getting jacked and the homeless can sit on a bench all day without getting rousted is pretty cool and something that should be celebrated.

I know some folks who spend their lives working with the homeless, and they get pretty passionate about how it’s a crime that in an affluent society like ours, you still have homeless people.  I see that point.  But I also see those agencies busting their asses to do what they can to help.  And I also see church groups and college kids and just ordinary people out at Moore Square on the weekend, passing out sandwiches and hotdogs, just taking time to have a conversation with these men and women.  So yeah it sucks that people are in that boat.  But there’s something powerful about the response our city has to it.

When I go to visit friends in Chicago they always tell me put on my “city face” so we won’t get approached by the bums. You know, set your face, avoid eye contact, don’t acknowledge the presence of another human.  I never think about that when I’m around Moore Square.  It feels like Raleigh’s front porch to me. You can put aside class and income and all the artificial dividers we invent to try and maintain identity, and just be who you are.

So I don’t know if Meeker feels like Moore Square is a missed opportunity or not.  But let me go on the record—thanks for not messing it up.  Revitalization and gentrification can feel so fake, so contrived.  Thanks for letting Moore Square continue to operate as the natural outgrowth of a real city and real people.

P.S. -The only thing we have to worry about now is some jackass coming up with an idea for Moore Square that utilizes the adjective “World Class.”  Like “Hey, everybody , we can build a world class aquarium and become a major tourist destination.” For some reason that “world class” moniker gets everybody worked up around here.  Don’t lose your heads, people! 

Read More

Politics, Other posts by Jesse Benjamin.


Moore SquareMayor Meeker


  • afbro
    03/31 03:12 PM

    Great article.  I came to Raleigh from a major metro area and I thought the same thing most people did—why are all these homeless people here?  You make me question my thoughts and I agree with the premise of what you say.  However, most major cities have so many other areas for people to congregate and enjoy the city, while Raleigh only has one “downtown” area.  This attracts so much negative and positive attention to the homeless and the Raleigh “downtown” that created more of a division than a healthy outlook such as yours.  Hopefully people will read this with an open mind and change their thinking, as I have done.  I was in the clean it up corner, but after reading this, maybe there is a compromise that allows development and society to interact in a humane way.

  • Carver
    03/31 03:33 PM

    I particularly like the park when they squeeze a few thousand people into it for a half baked concert experience. Rows of Porta’ Johns and people discharging urine in the foliage. I’m sure the homeless love the summer in the park! Sarcasm!  Wee…

    *Note: Interesting article though. Opens your eyes from a different perspective as “afbro” mentions above. Kudos!

  • arthurb3
    03/31 03:55 PM

    If you all haven’t noticed the Salvation Army and the homeless shelter are right there. That explains why the “homeless” are there. You could move it somewhere else and they will follow - like the South Park episode- but why? Nothing else really goes on there. Like Harget Square over by city hall, nothing would really be there if it weren’t for the homeless.

    How about moving the shelter to Briar Creek? Lots of space out there? (tongue-in-cheek)

  • Carver
    03/31 05:00 PM

    I was out and about two weekends ago and one of the homeless asked me for some change so I kindly gave him my last dollar… but I be damn! He handed the dollar back to me as I walked into one my favorite watering holes and asked me to come back out and give him a $5 dollar bill!

    WOW… I love our homeless in Raleigh! That’s Ballz’E! But not to Savvy as it’s plastic world Mr. Homeless man! But I never felt threaten and I enjoyed that interaction with one of Raleigh’s finest homeless. Cheers Mr. homeless man!

  • smitty
    03/31 09:25 PM

    I would bet that most of the panhandlers downtown are not homeless.

  • Micah
    04/01 12:54 AM

    I don’t know about “most,” smitty, but there are quite a few of them. At least one “homeless guy” I know who panhandles has a pretty nice home that he OWNS on Clark Street.  You can make some pretty good money panhandling…Tax free!

  • RaleighRob
    04/02 10:11 AM

    I’ve never had a problem with there being panhandlers and homeless in a downtown area.  That’s expected.  But I’ve always thought having so many concentrated in one single place like that isn’t good.  Businesses in City Market struggle enough (high turnover) as it is…this doesn’t help.  Like afbro, I wish there was a solution though…I don’t like the idea of just sweeping them away.

  • Chico
    04/09 04:19 PM

    I feel a lot more comfortable with the “homeless” folks in the park than I do with some of the freaks that come out of the woodwork to cheer on their favorite bad 90’s band. Was Deep South’s grant to facilitate music downtown decade specific? I’ve seen Maceo Parker, Tito Puente, Pacho Sanchez, David “Fathead” Newman, and many other fantastic internationally acclaimed artists in Moore Square. And fairly, these were all a part of Artsplosure. But no wonder there are more fights at Tir Na Nog and The Pourhouse during Downtown Live Events - look at who is attracted by the bands they book. If your parents were visiting you in Raleigh and they wanted to see downtown would you take them to see Warrant in the park? How about Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings? By the way, I gave Dave Rose my card with Dap-Kings written on the back, and told him to Google them. We’ll see what happens.

  • BigD
    04/14 02:11 AM

    I’m a dyed in the wool liberal and I wholeheartedly disagree with nearly everything you’ve said.

    1. “Moore Square and its people are as much a part of Raleigh as Char-Grill at this point.” 

    What?!  Moore Square and to a lesser extent Nash Square (since it’s bordered by municipal buildings and the N and O) should be the crown jewels of the city.  The homeless who congregate there severely limit their potential.

    2. Are you actually arguing that the city would be doing a disservice to these people by conducting social outreach in a different part of the city?  Why?  Strong social outreach does not need to be conducted in what should be the nicest public venue in the city.  Conversely, conducting outreach programs in the ghetto doesn’t make those programs any less effective, nor less valuable.  I don’t see how “sweeping the homeless” out of Moore’s Square diminishes their human value at all.  Forcing people to interact with the homeless neither changes their attitudes about and toward the homeless nor elevates the humanity of the homeless person.  People’s beliefs about the homeless, however misguided, won’t be changed by forcing them to “interact” with homeless people.  They’ll just avoid going to Moore’s Square, exactly as they do now.

    3. Consider the Moore Square Farmer’s Market which has struggled to maintain a critical threshold of vendors and patrons.  While some of that problem is due to the lack of downtown residents, much of it is due to the vagrants in the square.  We go to probably 85% of the markets because we want to see it succeed but the homeless problem is a huge detraction.

    4. Have you seen the litter in the square?  Broken bottles, trash, cigarette butts. 

    5. How about the public drunkenness at 3 in the afternoon.  Is that part of Raleigh?

    6. I’d give 10:1 odds that Mr. Benjamin is under 30 and doesn’t have children. 

    7. In my line of work, I cross paths with folks in Moore’s Square daily.  While it’s true that there are many who are unfortunate, I would argue that the majority of those folks (excepting the mentally ill) have made, and continue to make poor choices despite the bevy of outreach programs and opportunities available to them, often resorting to substance abuse and (typically petty) crime to get through the day.  Ultimately, you have to take some responsibility for your choices and actions and play the hand you’re dealt, however terrible.

    7. Even liberals lock their doors in the ghetto.  It’s clear that you’ve written this article with a good heart, but you seem to be riddled with the “guilt complex” that affects so much liberal thinking.  My wife and I regularly contribute to Urban Ministries, the Salvation Army, and Horizon Health Center.  Still, I say, “sweep them out,” and let Moore’s Square achieve its natural potential.

  • jazzhands
    04/14 09:38 AM

    This kind of “dyed in the wool liberal[ism]” is why I hate liberals. Just admit that you’re not all that liberal, and stop holding on to the trendy moniker. And I’m guessing you mean that jerky “liberals lock their doors in the ghetto.” Wait, some of your best friends are probably people of color. My bad.

  • Ken Metzger
    04/14 10:44 AM

    There is a reason that the homeless and needy services are at Moore Square: that is where the bus station is.  If you move services else where then not as many people will be served by them.  You are not going to change the scene of Moore Square while the bus station is there, which is the only way for homeless and the needy to get around.

    Yes, many have made poor choices, but curing substance abuse is not as easy as just saying “no”.  There is no easy solution, but pushing people into a remote area will not help them.  They need help and having people know of their existence can help support the services that are needed.

  • BigD
    04/14 08:42 PM


    Being in favor of moving the homeless and improving the square neither makes me a jerk nor a conservative.  I don’t use the words “liberal” or “progressive” to be trendy, trust me.  I’m willing and interested in hearing criticism, but you haven’t contributed anything to the discussion. 

    Ken Metzger:

    Much of what you say is spot-on, but as long as new location for social services is bus-accessible, I don’t think there will be a problem with the homeless.  Social services do not need to be located near the central bus station, just any bus station that’s easily accessible.  After all, this isn’t Chicago or New York in which there are 50 bus lines traversing in all sorts of directions.

    I agree that moving the homeless won’t help them.  However, I also disagree with those who argue that moving them is a disservice to them as people (i.e. that it somehow diminishes their human value).  If access to services is impaired (as you suggest), then that’s an obvious disservice.  However, with good transportation services, and ready access, I don’t think it should be a problem.  It’s a matter of how you spend your city dollars.

    I’m not arguing that recovery from drug and alcohol abuse is easy.  However, with the exception of the (admittedly large, i.e. ~ 20-25%) mentally ill homeless population, homelessness should never be a chronic condition (and with appropriate services, the number of mentally ill among the homeless could easily be reduced).  What obligation do I have to the man (or woman) who isn’t ready to face addiction despite the overwhelming number of services available.  Those who have recovered all echo the same sentiment: recovery begins when the addict “hits bottom.”  Of course, the bottom is different for everyone, but the point is that no amount of services will be successful until the addict is ready for change.

  • News...from our Shoes
    04/28 02:48 PM

    I would have to commend the author of this finely written article, as it was tastefully explained so that all would benefit from it, but there was one person, in particular, who really p—-ed me off with his snide comments and that would be he who penned himself as “Big D.”

    Obviously, Big D wouldn’t stand for what most warped minds would think, but moreso, would represent what a big damned mouth he has for wanting the homeless “swept out of Moore Square Park.”

    Allow me to tell you something, Mister…I am one of the city’s homeless and because I am homeless doesn;t make me or any of the other 1200 any less than you because of our status in life.

    You mentioned litter, trash, broken bottles and cigarette butts in the park, well, wake the heck up and realize that you can’t blame the homeless for everything.  In case you forgot, kind sir, during such events as Downtown Raleigh Live, when the housed are there to enjoy the festivities, they, too, litter with cigarette butts, broken bottles, trash, etc, so don’t try to put that strictly on the homeless, because that is will not wash,

    Next, to think you feel that public drunkeness after 3pm is only a trait of the homeless, well…Wrong ! again…When the aforementioned events go on at Moore Square Park, the housed are as to blame as the homeless, but there is one thing that seperates us from you, in this matter…you get to crawl into your cars, sloppy drunk and drive home and endanger the lives of innocent people, such as the homeless; while we get ticketed for being out there trying to sustain ourselves.

    What a narrow-minded viewpoint !

    It is people like you the reason that the homeless are still homeless and always be so.

    If you stopped thinking that donating money to organizations will help to end homelessness then you are more of a moron than I give you credit for being.

    If you knew how those organizations really worked in dispersing your donations to us, you would rethink your statements…do you think after you give to them, they just come and give it to us, just like that?

    WRONG AGAIN…Brainiac.

    We may or may not see whatever it is you donate to these organizations, whether it be cash or clothing, etc.

    I think you should try to live in our shoes for just one week and see the truth behind our way of life and see what I tell you is true.

    Because you donate to organizations does not mean homelessness will end that minute or the next day.

    It is a long process that takes some doing.  Many homeless people are not the senseless, vagrants you may seem to think us to be.  We are some of the most intelligent, talented people I have had the pleasure to meet and I am glad I have the chance to mingle with them, because I used to me narrow minded, just like you are, until I got caught up in their lives and now it is my life and my story and no matter how many degrees you have or how fine a home you live in….it doesn’t make you more or better than we are…trust me….put all your luxuries away for 7 days and come live as a homeless man and see for yourself…I guarantee you will have a new lease on the homeless experience.

  • Louie
    02/17 04:40 PM

    The homeless need to go somewhere else, like 132 Kilmayne Dr.
    Cary, NC 27511

  • Sara Lamp
    03/25 12:42 AM

    Moore Square Park does not have to be the “homeless area or ‘Crack Haven’  I have put alot of thought into this idea and
    I think we should design and build a labyrinth which brings in historical interest from all walks of life.  Why not attempt to get the ‘homeless’ to be involved in the labor sector of building the project.  Today there is a renaissance
    of interest in the Labyrinth as a ‘Spiritual tool’.  What do
    we as human beings need more? 
        I know alot about the purposes of labyrinths and mazes.
    What could possibly interest the people of Raleigh more.  Please contact myself about this project.  I hope to have people thinking positive about this area to include everyone; something we could all be proud of.  Please think about this idea and get back with me.  I come from The
    University of Ohio State and hope to use my background and
    love for a good use!

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