Post Classifieds

SC outlaws homeless from streets

By Lisa Rickman
On September 10, 2013

The city council of Columbia, South Carolina, passed an Emergency Homeless response, banning homeless people in a unanimous vote. 

The plan states that the homeless currently in the city will be sent to an emergency shelter outside the city that beds 240. Only $500,000 has been budgeted for the plan, with estimated costs at $1.7 million. Homeless people will be moved to this facility, along with ex-prisoners, who are to be dropped off at the shelter upon release. With more than 1,600 homeless in the Columbia area, according to the Columbia Family Shelter website, and 25 percent are families with children, it's clear that the proposed plan doesn't account for their needs.

The shelter will run from September to March and after the initial sweep of the city, those found lingering may be thrown in jail, as the response plan states, "No foot traffic. Period." Officers are to be positioned at certain streets to control foot traffic. Residents will even have a hotline they can call to report suspected homeless.

However, some in the department disagree. 

"Homelessness is not a crime," said Interim Police Chief Ruben Santiago in comments to The State. "I've got to have the legal right (to question or take anyone into custody). We can't just take people to somewhere they don't want to go. I can't do that. I won't do that." 

Neither Santiago and City Manager Teresa Wilson authorized the dispensation of more officers to enforce this new plan.

The general argument for this relocation, according to the response plan, is vague at best. It is proposed that the amount of homeless people on the streets has affected downtown businesses negatively. The impact report consists entirely of quotes from local business owners complaining that the presence of these homeless people hurts business by making their customers and employees uncomfortable. That is the only argument for the impact of the presence to be found in the report. Although the report has many of these statements, it is disturbingly lacking in factual evidence to backup these claims. What actual harm are these homeless doing to the community by merely being there?

So is this ethical? Well, ask yourself this: Business owners are complaining that the presence of these people is driving away business, so the city has decided, in order to save commerce, to round up over 1,600 people, put them into a space that only fits 240 and throw any people found on the streets in jail after that. The shelter situation brings to mind the cramped and conditions of the Superdome during hurricane Katrina, when more than 20,000 people sought refuge from the winds and rain, and food, water, blankets, staff and more were all in short supply. It's no wonder Santiago is uncomfortable with the new plan and assuming his fellow officers feel the same way, the city may have trouble forcing this plan onto people's consciences.

Even if the ethical question doesn't bother you, the cost probably should. With a budget shortfall of 1.2 million dollars, you have to wonder where the rest of the money is coming from; which is most likely from the taxpayers. If that is the case then those uncomfortable with the ethics, and those who want a say in where their tax money goes, should all be in an uproar over this new plan.

Columbia is not alone in seeking extreme measures to combat the rising amount of homeless people in the country. After the housing and unemployment crises, many individuals and families have been left by the wayside all over the country. Tampa Bay, Florida also passed laws criminalizing homelessness over the summer. 

I find it sad that the government was put in place to protect and help these people and has not only let these crises happen, but is now also punishing those affected. How long can the public turn a blind eye to this injustice? I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

Because relocating large groups of people has always worked so well in the past.

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