Columbia, SC, to exile its homeless

The city plans to forcibly segregate them in the same year it celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement.

By Jason Notte Aug 23, 2013 2:08PM
Downtown Columbia, SC (Via Wikipedia)

What's the quickest, easiest -- if least effective -- way to deal with your downtown's unsightly problem of homelessness? Making it somebody else's problem.


Because the city government in Columbia, S.C., apparently cribs its planning for homeless outreach from old episodes of "South Park," it has decided to get its big push broom out of the garage and just sweep the homeless out of the city center.


The Columbia City Council unanimously approved the plan, creating special police patrols that would enforce "quality of life" laws involving loitering, public urination and other crimes not necessarily restricted to the homeless population. Those officers would then offer the homeless a choice: Go to jail for their homelessness or be shuffled to a 240-bed, 24-hour shelter on the outskirts of town, which they wouldn't be allowed to easily leave.


That second option isn't jail, mind you, because the homeless are being confined with the help of a local charitable organization. It's charitable incarceration, you see. The homeless can leave, but they need to set up an appointment and be shuttled by a van.


And just in case any of the offending homeless get any ideas about doing something crazy like, oh, walking into town, officials plan to post an officer -- we can only assume it won't be Brian Dennehy -- on the road leading to downtown just to make sure they don't walk back and go all John Rambo on the place.


But, hey, it's cool: That 240-bed shelter should totally hold the 1,518 homeless people currently living in the Columbia area. Besides, the city is partnering with a charity. Surely they'll be able to make this exile of the homeless work, right?


Michael Stoops, director of community organizing at the National Coalition for the Homeless, told ThinkProgress, the plan is the "most comprehensive anti-homeless measure" he had ever seen proposed "in any city in the last 30 years." He added: "Using one massive shelter on the outskirts to house all a city's homeless is something that has never worked anywhere in the country."


But there has to be a first time for everything. Maybe this policy doesn't do anything to make the homeless less homeless. Maybe it doesn't peek into bigger issues like South Carolina's 8.1% unemployment rate or Columbia's 7.9% rate -- each higher than the national average. Maybe it doesn't factor in a state foreclosure rate that ranks among the nation's Top 10 and far outstrips the national average.


But a city marking the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement can't get into trouble for segregating a whole portion of the population from the rest of the city just because it doesn't like the way it looks, can it? Well, there is that whole "equal treatment under the law" business that applies whether someone is shaking a change cup outside of a Starbucks or not.


"The underlying design is that they want the homeless not to be visible in downtown Columbia," Susan Dunn, South Carolina ACLU's legal director said. "You can shuttle them somewhere or you can go to jail. That's, in fact, an abuse of power."


Good luck with that, Columbia.


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1447Comments
Aug 23, 2013 3:11PM
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The homeless of our society are still citizens. I bet you any amount of money no teenager sat back and thought, "you know, my goal in life is be homeless someday." It's just something that happened on their life's journey. Is it often caused by alcoholism, drug addiction, or mental health issues? Of course! Still, it is much better to have compassion for them and show some love than hate them.

   About 15 years ago I watched a really drunk homeless man keep falling down and he was hurting himself. As I continued walking down the street I was mumbling to myself, "what a stupid idiot." Then I saw an elderly couple approach the man and ask if he was alright. They asked if there was anything they could do to help him. I was truly ashamed of my condescending attitude. 

Aug 23, 2013 2:54PM
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When did we a nation of mainly Christians turn into this? I may have left the church but I still follow his words. We have truly lost our way.
Aug 23, 2013 3:05PM
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I suggest all the liberals open up their spare bedrooms so we can solve this problem
Aug 23, 2013 2:59PM
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Ship them to DC, so Obama can count the homeless in his unemployment numbers as they aren't counted now.
Aug 23, 2013 4:08PM
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I live in Columbia and this is grossly misreported. We are not 'sweeping' them away. The city is planning on building a larger facility that would accommodate the growing homeless population here year round and service them with transportation and jobs. Yes, this facility is out of the city center...because there is nowhere in the city center to build a facility like this. Thanks to large cities around Columbia giving their homeless one way bus tickets to Columbia (Charlotte during DNC/Atlanta during NCAA Final Four), our homeless population has exploded and the current facilities and organizations can barely handle a percentage of them. You can hardly walk around downtown without seeing homeless people using the streets/sidewalks/alleys as toilets; or worse, seeing what they leave behind after they use them as a toilet. You tell me, if that were your city, would you be as accommodating and just turn a blind eye. Local businesses have homeless people breaking in at night or walking in in the middle of the day and it is turning customers away. Large companies have moved their corporate facilities to other towns in the state because of these issues and their employees not feeling safe; especially business where people work at night or in the early morning. The homeless don't just bring sanitation issues, they are brining drugs and alcohol and fights with them. I have not been down town at night in a long time because I got tired of being asked every 5 steps for money and being harassed if I had none to give. I have grown tired of the belligerent, crazy people walking through the middle of the road with no concern of traffic yelling at cars and pedestrians and it is not fun to hear about all the dead people found on benches or bus stops in the early mornings of cold winter nights. As for the laws that will have them arrested, well, these are already laws being enforced on the college kids and bar crowds who get drunk and linger or become menaces to public safety. The city is merely stating they will begin to enforce them on the homeless, which they were being kind and not enforcing previously. The first step, however, will be to return them to the temporary shelter and if they don't want to go, then to jail. Before your bleeding heart do-gooders talk about how mean and cold hearted we are, come stay in Columbia (downtown) for a weekend and see what we are dealing with. If you come up with a better plan, feel free to drop it off at the State House on your way out of town.
Aug 23, 2013 3:06PM
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It would be better to put the homeless to work on City projects. Most of them can push a broom or pull a weed. If they do not want to work; send them away to beg in some other place. Do not let the City decay to the filth and garbage of Detroit,  St. Louis, etc. where it is not safe to walk on the streets at night. 
Aug 23, 2013 2:57PM
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I sense more than a little sarcasm in your article.  The city called and they'd like to know if you have a BETTER idea or if you just wanted sit behind your desk and snark about it.....
Aug 23, 2013 3:30PM
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I get how bad this program is and how it can be abused, but as someone who lives in Los Angeles and can no longer walk my family to the store because of verbally abusive and threatening homeless people, not to mention the fact that puddles of urine and feces are becoming commonplace on that route, I sympathize. I live in a middle class area as well. Attacking the symptoms of a larger problem won't solve that problem, I agree, but living in fear that my my wife and son will be attacked by the shadow boxing screaming public urinator down the block is also not ideal.
Aug 23, 2013 3:11PM
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This is the ugly face of the new real world. Times are bad and they are going to get worse. Soon the government will be bankrupt and corporations will rule the world and we already know that they are only about the money.
Aug 23, 2013 3:16PM
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Since when is mental illness a choice?
Aug 23, 2013 3:30PM
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Homeless due to their work hours being cut so employers don't have to provide insurance?
Aug 23, 2013 3:11PM
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In these rather tough economic times, it is difficult for ANYONE to find employment, and even the entry-level jobs are hard to come by, so once someone finds themselves homeless, the deck is stacked against them. They don't have transportation, an address, suitable clothing, or even a phone number where they can be reached. For those out there who think they are homeless by choice, there are those who choose that lifestyle, but there are a greater percentage who find themselves on the street for legitimate reasons. Without the help of an organization, it's impossible for a homeless person to find employment. The moves of this city are drastic, but similar actions are being undertaken in other cities, and I know that here in Pittsburgh, they have recently started just cleaning out and fencing in many of the areas where the homeless seek shelter at night, I guess in hopes that they will move on. When I lived near Daytona Beach, one newspaper article estimated the homeless population in that area to be over 6,000, and that was years ago, before the latest economic downturn. The warm weather states like Florida have a homeless population that can't even be estimated, and the sad part is that a lot of them are vets. This is an issue that Columbia seems to be turning its back on, rather than trying to deal with things in a more compassionate way.
Aug 23, 2013 3:23PM
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Way to put a spin on it msn.   They are not kicking out their homeless..they are trying to deal with it.  I am not from Columbia SC, nor do I live anywhere near there.  
Aug 23, 2013 3:05PM
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This is basically what Michelle Obama did when she "worked" at the UIC hospital in Chicago, Her  $350.000 a year job was to find hospitals that would treat the dregs of society so they would not clogging up the Uppity UIC ER's!!!! Another NO News day at MSNBC!!!!!!!!!! 
Aug 23, 2013 3:33PM
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If you guys feel so bad about the homeless stop being hyprocrites and give them a place to live, feed and cloth them.  Problem solved. Offer them a job and just see what happens. They are not interested in most cases.  Isnt it funny how liberals talk a good game but when it comes to walking the walk instead of talking the talk they are misteriously missing.
Aug 23, 2013 3:16PM
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There's plenty of room for them in DC. 
Aug 23, 2013 2:46PM
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So why not make them clean up the road ways with hand tools, nothing sharp though?
Aug 23, 2013 3:38PM
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I live in Columbia, SC on the busiest street where the homeless are hanging out.  This article does not tell the facts of how they came to be here and how these "individuals" behave.  The majority choose to be homeless, walking around with their iphones, EBT cards, liquor, drug dealing on the street corners, prostitution,  and yet there is a city block dedicated to feeding/housing them and trying to help them acclimate back into the mainstream of society.  Many of them were bused in from other cities and we, who have to work downtown are accosted on a daily basis day and night.  We once had beautiful parks for people to enjoy in downtown Columbia.  Now it is no longer safe to go to these parks.  Businesses are moving because their clients are no longer safe.  This is not a homeless issue so much as it is about individuals who don't want to abide by the law or work and have chosen this lifestyle.  

This article is very slanted and the author obviously has not done his research.  There is ample help from the community for these "homeless" but they have chosen to remain on the street so that the can "have their crack, free food, warmth, etc without being accountable."  This was a quote from a homeless "spoke person" who got more time to speak at a City Council meeting than the business owners/employees that are affected by their behavior.  They defecate on business property, call you names, have accosted people, and basically don't give a @#$!%.  So before you judge the city for what they are doing, which by the way, is a temporary fix to a plan they are putting together, try working in this environment.  Come visit Columbia.  There are countless shelters, churches, and many generous people who donate their time and money to help the homeless.  The individuals that are being moved to the shelter spoken of in this article are individuals that commit crimes and don't want to better themselves!

So before you give Columbia a bad rap, come pay us a visit and see for yourself the nature of this problem.
Aug 23, 2013 3:09PM
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Wow, I sure am impressed with you, Columbia City Council! You've come up with a law that is unconstitutional, unenforceable, and un-Biblical all at once! I would never wish the hell of homelessness on anyone, including you folks. However, if you should someday find yourselves homeless--let's say, after losing a recall election and the financial support of your political cronies--I hope the experience will cure you of your heartlessness. Grow a conscience, will you?
Aug 23, 2013 3:04PM
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Why have some people become so evil? This makes me very sad.
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