Since the last issue of STREET SHEET, and with the attention of the national media focused squarely on the issue, the city council of Columbia, SC reversed its unanimous approval of legislation that would, for all intents and purposes, have outlawed homelessness in the downtown business district of the state’s capital city. The plan required that that all homeless people be bused to a shelter on the city’s outskirts, and then not be allowed to leave that shelter to return downtown. This was to be achieved by stationing police officers outside the shelter and along the return route to arrest anyone trying to escape their illegal incarceration.
Thanks to the outrage expressed by communities from coast to coast, the huge outpouring of support for Columbia’s homeless community, threats of lawsuits, and the refusal by Columbia’s own Chief of Police to enforce their illegal mandate, the city council, once again by the same unanimous vote, reversed its position.
Now the issue is whether this reversal represents a victory for homeless and poor people or simply an attempt to divert attention.
On Tuesday, September 3rdCouncil unanimously adopted the following motion put forward by Mayor Steve Benjamin. As you can see in the highlighted and underlined sections of the motion, the Mayor is simply using more palatable language to conceal most of the original intent of the repealed legislation.
- That City Council, in its efforts to address homelessness, poverty and despair in our city, approve opening the Emergency Homeless Shelter beginning September 24, 2013 through April 15, 2014 or for a total of seven months from the beginning date. The Emergency Homeless Shelter will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week during this seven month period.
- That City Council provide funding in the same amount as last year’s contract with Christ Central Ministries to provide all operational services at the Emergency Homeless Shelter.
- That as part of the service for the Emergency Homeless Shelter that Christ Central Ministries will provide for the operation of vans and buses to transport residents of the shelter to and from external service providers, services, work and downtown as requested.
- That Christ Central Ministries strive to move clients out of the Emergency Homeless Shelter and into participating service provider’s programs within seven (7) days of intake at the Emergency Shelter.
- That the City of Columbia, Christ Central Ministries and service providers recognize that meeting the challenge of homelessness and poverty requires a community response and that this is a “we” challenge, not a “them” challenge and never an effort to deprive any individuals of civil liberties or to criminalize poverty
- That the City of Columbia encourage participation by nonprofit, faith based organizations and others that provide meals and services to the homeless in Columbia to participate in coordination of services, including providing meals and services for residents at the Emergency Homeless Shelter.
- That Christ Central Ministries and the City of Columbia will deliver to City Council detailed monthly financials and quantitative and qualitative measurements regarding the Emergency Shelter operation after the mid-point and ending point of the program.
- That the city manager develop a budget recommendation and implementation plan to retain the current level of community foot patrol of police in the downtown area of Columbia. In addition these resources should include training of CPD officers to identify when individuals are in crisis and would require medical assistance for both healthcare and mental health problems. Both items should be presented to City Council at its next meeting.
- That Columbia City Council adopt the six homeless response goals presented to this body by the people of Columbia. Namely to: Coordinate the response to poverty Bring humanity to the response to poverty Leverage the power of the community in responding to poverty Institutionalize accountability for providers Meet the unique needs of the individual in need Address downtown impacts.
- That the City of Columbia receive proposals to address the long-term response to homeless poverty through 02 January 2014. To earn a slot for participation, each must engage in: Orientation Session – Broad brush explanation of the challenge and goals Planning Session(s) – Participatory dialogue a couple of weeks following initial orientation.
- To adopt several of the immediately actionable items of the Homeless Advisory Committee including Developing a “Homeless Central” website within the City of Columbia web pages providing comprehensive and current information about service providers, their offerings and contact information.
- Increasing “No Panhandling” and “No Loitering” signage and posters on Calhoun, Main and Sumter Streets and increase the number of trash cans on Calhoun, Main and Sumter Streets. Utilizing the City Center Partnership “Yellow Shirts” and all other options available in order to further educate the homeless community and the public at large with regard to the City of Columbia’s Loitering and Panhandling ordinances and guidelines.
- Offering three meals a day at the Emergency Homeless Shelter and to invite homeless meal providers to a “Feeding Summit” or “Meal Services Summit” in order to discuss consolidation of meal services and explore options for providers to assist with the Emergency Homeless Shelter’s meal service rather than providing their own.
- Enforcing all ordinances and requirements related to public gathering and food distribution.
- Moving towards providing permanent self-operating and self-cleaning restrooms on a 24-hour basis.
- And to explore all available options to address the specific needs of veterans and families and children in our community. Council also unanimously adopted a motion by Devine to explore options for a “homeless court,” and to explore recommendations from an Affordable Housing Task Force.
- Finally, Council voted to cancel its Aug. 13 vote on the homeless issue.
Nice try your honor, but your proposal, as it stands, still walks and quacks like a duck. By increased posting “no loitering” signs, Columbia is still making it illegal for poor people to be present outside your downtown businesses.
With policies in place such as those reported by http://www.free-times.com/cover/no-direction-home, including not allowing shelter residents to enter the facility with their cigarettes and lighters or by running the names of shelter seekers through a law enforcement database upon intake, it’s clear that recent reversal of policy leaves the city of Columbia, SC with a long way to go.