South Carolina’s capital city is dishing out some southern discomfort following a controversial decision to criminalize its homeless.
On Aug. 13, the Columbia City Council approved a plan that effectively makes homelessness illegal in parts of the city. The proposal forces those who sleep outdoors to be sent to a shelter on the outskirts of town. Those who don’t comply will be rounded up and forced to leave or sent to the slammer.
“It’s basically a choice between two kinds of jail,” Jake Maguire, spokesman for Community Solutions’ 100,000 Homes Campaign, told Fox News. “There’s jail and then there’s the shelter.”
He added, “Once you get there, you can’t come and go. You are basically brought to a place where you are expected to stay. If you want to go back downtown, you have to get approval for them to shuttle you back.”
But Councilman Cameron Runyan, the man behind the proposal, believes moving Columbia’s homeless shelter 15 miles from the city’s downtown area can cut crime and draw in more businesses and opportunities.
“If we don’t take care of this big piece of our community and our society, it will erode the entire foundation of what we’re trying to build in this city,” Runyan told the council. “What I see is a giant risk to business.”
Under Runyan’s “Emergency Homeless Response” plan, homeless-looking people in the city’s 36-block downtown district will be asked by police to move to a shelter on the outskirts of the Columbia. If a person refuses, they could be arrested on a range of public nuisance laws.
Once at the shelter, the only way to leave is by reserving a shuttle ride. To make sure the homeless don’t return, a police officer will be stationed on the road leading to the downtown district to keep the homeless away.
The plan has received support from Columbia’s business leaders who say the city’s homeless problem has been their eroding economic opportunities for decades.
Maria Foscarinis, the executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, called Columbia’s plan “an extreme, highly disturbing example.”
But Columbia is not alone. This summer, Portland, Ore., and Tampa, Fla., also initiated steps to boot out their homeless.
During the 1990s, then New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani planned to remove homeless people from shelters if they refused to work. New York City cops also started handing out $76 citations to the homeless who “camped in public.”