Kicking Out the Homeless in Downtown Columbia, South Carolina

The controversial plan, approved by the city council, would exile those who sleep outdoors in the city center to a shelter on the outskirts of town

  • Share
  • Read Later
Getty Images / Getty Images

Columbia's homeless will have the choice of going to a shelter or being arrested.

Finding ways to help the homeless population is one of the hardest problems any big city faces. However, one South Carolina municipality has found a cheap and easy solution: Out of sight, out of mind.

Under the “Emergency Homeless Response” plan (which can be read in full here), passed last week by the Columbia City Council, homeless-looking citizens in Columbia’s 36-block downtown area will be asked by police to move to a shelter on the outskirts of the city. Should the person refuse, the State reports, “they could be arrested under a range of public nuisance laws that include loitering, public intoxication, public urination, aggressive panhandling or trespassing.”

Coercing suspected homeless into shelter on the edge of town is just one of the plan’s controversial aspects. Once at the shelter, the potentially unwilling residents would be prevented from leaving except by specific appointment. The only approved way to exit the installation is by reserving a shuttle ride. In order to further ensure shelter-goers do not return to the business district, a police officer will be placed on the road leading downtown to redirect homeless people away from the area.

The central role of a single shelter has also been criticized for not providing the capacity necessary to house all of Columbia’s homeless. The expanded center, slated to open on September 15th, would only have enough room for less than one-sixth of the city’s homeless population.

The South Carolina capital isn’t the first city to try relocating homeless people. From Hawaii to San Francisco, other areas in the U.S. have offered the homeless one-way plane tickets back to their places of origin. But these recent plans bear little resemblance to Columbia’s mandatory removal of suspected vagrants. Both San Francisco and Hawaii’s programs are voluntary, and intended to re-unite the homeless with family members who can help them get back on their feet.

Instead, Columbia’s plan is more reminiscent of the “tough love” policies of the late 1990s, most famously associated with New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. A 1999 TIME article reports how 24 cities had begun conducting nightly police sweeps to dislodge the homeless, and detailed the NYC mayor’s plan to remove all “able-bodied” homeless people from shelters if they refused to work. A New York Times article from the same year recounts how the NYPD would hand out $76 citations to those living on the street as punishment for “camping in public.”

Homeless advocates in Columbia have made it clear that the City Council’s plan will not be implemented without a fight. Tom Turnipseed, a local attorney, has promised to file a federal lawsuit, and he expects both the ACLU and Columbia’s Appleseed Legal Justice Center will aid his efforts.

But at least some Columbians have expressed support for the Council’s policy. Eric Bland, a lawyer, told the State that the large number of homeless people near his workplace make him feel unsafe. “The lawyers that are screaming aren’t the ones at Ground Zero of this,” said Bland. “They’re not the ones paying the taxes.”

“It’s the city’s obligation to provide for the health and welfare of its citizens,” Bland added. The homeless “don’t have the right to stop people from the use and enjoyment of their property.”

50 comments
RoeYoung
RoeYoung

There was a day when many that could not care  for themselves because of severe mental  illness or drug and alcohol dependency were housed and cared for by the state.   The vast majority of the homeless would fall into one of these categories. Many years ago there was a political/philosophical shift in this country. There was a concern that all of these people could not be  held against their will. For many  of them, their being held, was for them mana from heaven.   They enjoyed free housing,food and medical attention. They were protected from a society not able to handle their special  needs and society was protected from the challenges that their mental illness and drug problems brought to the table. The homeless issue has very little to do with the economic condition of the homeless individual.  When one fixates on the economic condition of the homeless two things come to my mind. The first and most probable is that they simply do not understand the issue. The second that comes to mind is that they are trying to make a weak, misguided  political statement. Both of these are lost on those that understand what is really taking place. The front doors of mental institutions/asylums and prisons in the United States  were opened up and these folks walked out the front door and into your front yards............      They no longer have access to the mental health care they once received, housing or food.




LeonGower
LeonGower

Lest we forget who built the cities. it wasn't the lawyers, doctors or politicians who fell to their deaths under unsafe work codes, freezing off limbs and crippling themselves for enough food to keep working. The people who riveted red hot iron and cracked stone ARE the ones sleeping on the streets.They built the beds the rich sleep in and more often than not they were given very little real compensation. Lawyers Politicians and Doctors feed off the city, Laborers built the city, and it's underpaid laborers who are currently sleeping on the streets. Want proof? Go down to any current construction site first thing in the morning, you'll find a cue of homeless people in hard hats and steel boots lined up waiting for 1 day's work. THEY are still building the city, they probably built the prison camps you plan to put them in.

"Homeless" what they mean is lower class and when they've taken away the lower class YOU will be the ones falling into that void. Think you're safe working your 9-5 retail job? who do you think they'll force to build the next towers of steel once all the homeless have been taken away. And then you'll be the lower class, and then you'll be in the death camps... oops didn't mean to call them that, sorry just seeing a trend.

You can't solve poverty by removing the poor while giving pay raises to those who remove the poor. All they are doing is pigeonholing people, that's what Human Resources means, I'd call it Communism or Socialism but this is worse, both of those are poorly thought out concepts of communal living. No this is worse than Communism or Socialism, this is Democracy, a word history will look back on with more fear than any other form of governance. By pushing the poor under a carpet you are saying "Money is more important than human lives and Companies should own the world." by letting them brand people as Human Resources you are letting them purchase YOU. if you work a 9-5 job THEY own you and if you don't work 9-5 THEY don't want you in their city. either way, all human life belongs to them.


E.A.Blair
E.A.Blair

They're very concerned about personal hygiene. I hear they have extensive shower facilities.

JudithTurnipseed
JudithTurnipseed

Not that it makes any difference, but I would like to point out to Attorney Bland that the Lawyerswho are advocates for the homeless  that are screaming ARE the ones at Ground Zero of this. They are the ones (along with lots of other people) paying the taxes.  Tom Turnipseed, my husband--obviously the "lawyers" to which Attorney Bland refers--works at his law office Turnipseed & Associates downtown at Ground Zero every day  along with his wife, son and employees and we pay taxes, for what it is worth.

That reminds me of one of the favorite comments made in this controversy.  "Why don't you bleeding heart liberals take some of those homeless people home with you to live.?"  Well, guess what?  They don't want to live with me--or you.  They want their own homes, like you--and me.

There has been discussion about categories of homeless people and why and how they became homeless, whether they want to end their homelessness. In Columbia, as everywhere, there are some who are homeless because they are mentally incapable of caring for themselves and have no family to care for them. Many of those are veterans.  Some homeless are addicts.  The majority of them are neither of those, but people who became homeless through no fault of their own--job loss, foreclosure, spouse abuse, catastrophic illness of a family member without sufficient insurance, etc.  Many of them work, but do not make enough money on minimum wage to afford a place in a city that has a deficiency of low income housing. Others are desperate for work.  They are not lazy.  They are intelligent, well read, mostly educated people who are trying hard to lift themselves out of their situation 

I would like to give you two examples of homeless friends who are trying hard but have obstacles to overcome.  One is a young man who has lived in 12 foster homes--some very nice, some not so nice in a very frightening way. After aging out of foster care and four years in the military, he is trying to find work.  Because he is a nice looking, well spoken young man, he has found several jobs, but he cannot consistently get to work unless he can bum a ride with a friend.  You see, in Columbia, we have the worst public transportation system you can imagine.  It is almost nonexistent. 

The other is a friend who left her home because of abuse. The shelter for abused women and the family shelter have waiting lists.  The other home for families is one for which you must qualify after a time in the first shelter.  None of the other shelters take women or women with children.  She has a chance for a job, but nowhere to leave the children.  They live in her car.

These and hundreds more are the ones who are being treated as subhuman, who are being removed from our streets so that our downtown can be a gated community.  Shame on us! Until we accept the homeless as fellow human being deserving of dignity and to be treated with humanity, we will never be able to tackle the issues surrounding homelessness in a productive way. 

These are the reasons we wear our H patches and appear before City Council to voice our objections to the Draconian plan they are prepared to put into place.  These are the reasons we are working with the ACLU and Appleseed Legal Justice Center  to prepare to protect the constitutional rights of the homeless of our city.  

We are fighting hard for justice.  Stay tuned.

  

oldmanstephanie
oldmanstephanie

"“The lawyers that are screaming aren’t the ones at Ground Zero of this,” said Bland. “They’re not the ones paying the taxes.”"

Paying the taxes. Right, of course! That makes so much sense. "I'm paying taxes because I have a job and a house and personal items to pay taxes on and therefore I get to throw people less fortunate than me out of 'my' city without regard of what would happen to them after."

I can't believe I didn't think of that before! I pay taxes so I have a right to do whatever the frickity frack I want to people. I pay taxes so I have a right to a comfortable life that completely disregards people less fortunate than me! My rights to walk down the street without being made - God forbid - uncomfortable by the sight of gross, dirty-looking homeless not-people are being infringed upon, dagnabbit.

Wow. What good logic. What good things South Carolina is doing for the people who have jobs and can afford houses.

What a good.

Bennite2112
Bennite2112

Perhaps Lady Liberty should be replaced by a huge "f*** you" finger looking out across New York harbour? The GOP seem to be targeting the average American worker as the next threat to democracy and freedom, the Christina right have appear to think Jesus would see the poor and disenfranchised as a bunch of freeloaders. and some of the most successful corporations are happy to make huge profits but pay poverty wages. I don't think this cycle will be broken anytime soon, in fact America seems to drifting into a corporate dictatorship where democracy is just a disposable veneer.

Bennite2112
Bennite2112

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free;
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless,
Tempest-tossed to me
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

vrrm
vrrm

San Franciscan here...  First thing I noted in the article is that Columbia's homeless population of apx. 1500, is roughly 1% of the population.  Per capita high than San Francisco, which is astonishing as we are usually quoted as having the highest per capita homeless population in the country. Unfortunately, dealing with homeless in America is left of to municipalities, who don't have the resources or ability to tackle the underlying cause.  This has lead to an arms race between cities where each one tries to make life more unendurable than the other for the homeless population.  Any city that tries to treat them humanly becomes overwhelmed with migrations from other regions.  It's a shocking tragedy and a classic example of a race to the bottom.  Where does Columbia think their homeless population will go once they clear their downtown, with only a few hundred shelter beds on the outskirts?  Obviously, they know very well: to some other city that has not yet set up their own system of concentration camps.  Truely appalling and another direct product of the national paralysis caused by having one of the nation's parties highjacked by right-wing ideological lunatics.

mary.waterton
mary.waterton

There are two kinds of homeless: those who are genuinely homeless and those who are substance abusers. The genuinely homeless don't want to be in the same facilities with the substance abusers because they steal your stuff to pay for drugs and alcohol. In California there are now a proliferation of  "safe parking lots" in which people live out of their cars:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vEIxDK-tOIE

Contrary to the BS coming from the Government, the Federal Reserve and Wall Street, the economy is not improving for anyone except the RICH. The jobs being created are  temporary, part-time and contract positions that pay approximately minimum wage. You can't rent an apartment and pay all your other bills on minimum wage. The outcome is people living out of their cars. According to those interviewed, there is a waiting list to get into these "safe parking lots" and the list is getting longer.

HeatherAnnCzerniak
HeatherAnnCzerniak

The nation that once took pride in being humane and fighting the good fight against the evil in the world is now becoming an evil nation itself. Does Nazi Germany come to mind? What will they all do when they finally realize that they can't just sweep the homeless under the rug? Does Hitler's Final Solution come to mind?

Thankfully, my husband and I are now living in Israel, where we won't have to endure what many of our fellow Jews fell victim to in the Holocaust. Damn the United States of America for letting this happen!

KerrieMatulionis
KerrieMatulionis

I thought we did away with concentration camps after World War II?

rsb8931
rsb8931

Read the next 7 comments on this article about the homeless in Columbia. Very interesting view points and in my opinion they are all well informed and they all make a valid point. This is the best comments on an article I have read in a long time. And I happen to agree with you folks about this issue. I don't have the answer, but housing them like packages against their will isn't the answer and I feel sure this may very well be against some federal law and if it's not, it probably should be.

SarahConfran
SarahConfran

"residents would be prevented from leaving except by specific appointment." 

so basically it will be a prison where you can only leave to go to work, if you even have a job. if not they are never allowed to leave.....

tealover
tealover

America is going to be judged by how it has treated the poor, homeless, and less fortunate people in this country.

brimcp
brimcp

Guns for the homeless!   Problem solved  

DaleDeSombre
DaleDeSombre

Really , I would bet that 50% of the homeless are mentally ill. 25% drug and alcohol related ,  the last 25% can't cope with all the BS

stewart0602
stewart0602

Most of what we euphemistically call "homeless" (Americans are addicted to euphemisms, which allow us to remain safely removed from the real issues involved, and in a state of perpetual denial about whatever is really going on) are actually severely mentally ill or drug/alcohol addicted persons.  Rather than humanely treat these many thousands according to their pathology and circumstances in state-of-the-art facilities, which admittedly would cost many millions of dollars annually (after all, we can't afford such expense while we're still paying billions for obsolete weapons systems and to support the Egyptian Generals), we instead lump them into this "homeless" category, and now, apparently, they'll be developed as a growing revenue stream for outsourced private contractors building homeless "shelters" (an abuse of the language if I ever heard one), who recognize the private but very lucrative prison business plateauing all around them. even in the most repressive red states.  Holy cow, we're even legalizing pot in many places, so the supply of inmates is gonna start to dry up, and you've got to find another source to replace that shortfall.  Voila!  Homeless people being warehoused, "for their own good" yet. The contractors make out great, the local pols get their construction and referral kickbacks, law enforcement gets their "taste", and the so-called "normal" majority doesn't have to look at these poor wretched souls sleeping or begging in their midst.  Win-Win, the American Way!  Anyone who thinks this scenario is unfair or farfetched can conjure a euphemism for it.

DeweySayenoff
DeweySayenoff

I don't have a lot of use for the homeless, myself.  But this is illegal incarceration without due process.  It violates about four amendments in the Constitution: The first, (They can assemble peacefully anywhere), the fourth (probable cause)  the sixth (Speedy trial), the eighth (cruel and unusual punishment) and the fourteenth (equal protection before the law).  It is tantamount to unlawful detention - also known as kidnapping.

It can't pass constitutional muster.  I expect the ACLU will take up this case in short order.  Never before in my relatively long live have I seen a more egregious violation of constitutional rights based on class privilege alone.  It is the antithesis of what the United States stands for.  And it's only expected to come from one of the most repressive red states in the world.  

And Republicans wonder why they can't get more supporters.  It never occurred to them that a lot of homeless are Republicans who refused to get the "entitlements" due them because of their financial status.

This is why I call the rightist evil.  They eat their own - as well as anyone else who doesn't live up to their expectations.

jecriswell250
jecriswell250

Yes I believe people become homeless because of sin. I also believe Christians can and should help them out of a sense of mercy. 

WarrenPatterson
WarrenPatterson

If you don't want to work, you become homeless. These people chose to live in filth and that makes them happy so why should we feel bad for them.

EricPulvermacher
EricPulvermacher

I bet everyone on the board goes to church once a month and preaches how righteous they are for believing in Jesus. This behavior is in direct contradiction to that belief, but when has that ever stopped religious people. 

WilliamBarnes
WilliamBarnes

Very, very scary. What will 'intelligent' democratic people think up next? Punishment for not agreeing to work (as they, the ones who make the rules think) ? Sounds like communism to me.

hivemaster
hivemaster

 “It’s the city’s obligation to provide for the health and welfare of its citizens,” Bland added. The homeless “don’t have the right to stop people from the use and enjoyment of their property.”

Oh, the irony.

EliyahuRooff
EliyahuRooff

"States from Hawaii to San Francisco have offered some homeless one-way plane tickets back to their places of origin."

 Um, does the author understand that San Francisco isn't a state?



PhyJos
PhyJos

@KerrieMatulionis 

How about that part where they are NOT allowed free will after being "enrolled"? Quote,

 "Coercing suspected homeless into shelter on the edge of town is just one of the plan’s controversial aspects. Once at the shelter, the potentially unwilling residents would be prevented from leaving except by specific appointment. The only approved way to exit the installation is by reserving a shuttle ride. In order to further ensure shelter-goers do not return to the business district, a police officer will be placed on the road leading downtown to redirect homeless people away from the area." Close quote.

This sounds like Nazi Germany at its heyday. Very troublesome indeed.



JudithTurnipseed
JudithTurnipseed

@stewart0602 Hi.  Love your comments.  They are on the money about the Construction, privatization and kickbacks that we suspect are part of this whole plan--however, I do want to mention one thing in reference to your comment about law enforcement.  The interim police chief courageously spoke out and was quoted far and wide as saying that he could not arrest someone who had done nothing, as it is not against the law (YET) to be homeless and he will not take them someplace that they do not want to go.  Brave man.

OpenPope
OpenPope

@jecriswell250 ...please stop it.  Please please give it up with the jesus crap.   It's so old and nonsensical.  History will remember the religious as a band of narcissistic fools.

HeatherAnnCzerniak
HeatherAnnCzerniak

@jecriswell250 Whose sin, there's or the sin of an unjust society? and what about the homeless veterans whose self-sacrifice keeps you free from foreign enemies? Glad I didn't waste my time in the Armed Forces. Better yet, I'm glad my husband and I moved to Israel. One Holocaust is enough for us Jews. Be warned, my friend, that the meek shall inherit the Earth. God Himself will see to that!

HeatherAnnCzerniak
HeatherAnnCzerniak

@WarrenPatterson Dude, I'd like to see you walk up to a homeless veteran and tell him/her that right to his/her face. If you do, take my advice: duck.

mjkittredge
mjkittredge

@WarrenPatterson That's a really awful and ignorant statement of you to make. People from all walks of life become homeless for a variety of reasons, some through no fault of their own. For many it has nothing to do with not wanting to work, and some become homeless even while maintaining employment.

 Please, in the future, educate yourself before spouting off on a subject you obviously know nothing about.

PhyJos
PhyJos

@EricPulvermacher  

Church attendance does not make one a Christian - but living a life that resembles that of Christ does. Christians are NOT perfect, we are just forgiven!

Lady_Macbeth
Lady_Macbeth

@EricPulvermacher actually if you take a look, most of the people on the board are liberals and the mayor is an African AMerican Democrat.. who succeeded another Democrat.   Care to back and try that again?

EricPulvermacher
EricPulvermacher

@WilliamBarnes do you have any idea about what you are talking about? This is exactly the outcome pure capitalism will result in. These people can not compete so they are worthless. This behavior is the reason our governments are elected to protect our basic human rights.   

JNG
JNG

Nothing ironic about it. People who can't declare a fixed address in the city, aren't paying taxes, and so on are not "citizens" of that city.

DeweySayenoff
DeweySayenoff

@EliyahuRooff And your point is...?  Picking nits, it would seem.  Enjoy them.  Medicated shampoo gets them out of your hair.  Don't forget to launder all of your sheets and clothing in really hot water.  And once you're rid of them maybe you'll make posts that are relevant to the actual subject instead of making no point at all.

PhyJos
PhyJos

@JudithTurnipseed @stewart0602  

Yes, indeed, he's a brave man to go againist the obamanation that our beloved country is becoming. I hope for him much success in his endeavors.

WilliamBarnes
WilliamBarnes

@EricPulvermacher @WilliamBarnesThese people can not compete so they are worthless.

Now THAT is a super sick-o comment, besides being 100% wrong. Obviously they're competing with you or you wouldn't want them out of sight. A lot of the American public have turned from Jedis to storm troopers. 

DeweySayenoff
DeweySayenoff

@JNG So, correct me if I'm wrong...  If you don't pay taxes, you aren't a citizen?  Good to know.  Let's kick out all of those radical libertarians who don't want to pay back to the country that gave them the freedom to be idiots in the first place.

DeweySayenoff
DeweySayenoff

@JNG @EricPulvermacher @WilliamBarnes You have a basic human right in the United States to go where you want to when you want to at any time as long as it's open to the public or public property regardless of your status. Freedom of assembly is a first amendment right.  This "law" restricts and imposes on that, turning financially disadvantaged people into prisoners who are required to account for their movements while those who "appear" to be otherwise aren't.

It is blatantly unconstitutional and I hope the ACLU will step in and show the morons in Columbia just how misguided and unAmerican their little law is.