South Carolina’s capital city of Columbia is in the news in August 2013 for developing its plans for making homelessness illegal at the same time the 100,000 Homes organization is chosen as a semi-finalist in the Buckminster Fuller contest for the greatest world changer in 2013, see articles below. 100,000 Homes’ goal, already halfway reached, is to find 100,000 homes for the homeless by 2014.
Headlines have featured “Police oppose criminalizing homelessness in Columbia, South Carolina” and “I can’t do that. I won’t do that.” Columbia City Council approved the plan, “The Homeless Emergency Response Plan,” making being homeless illegal in parts of the city.
The homeless will not be arrested or kicked out immediately if they are caught wondering around downtown. Instead of sleeping outside, they must go to a shelter on the outskirts of Columbia. If they refuse to go there, then either they will be taken to jail or forced out of town. Once they are kicked out, they must have city approval to reenter.
The plan was suggested by Columbia City Councilman Cameron Runyan, email@example.com, telephone 803.545.4401, see the Welcome to the City of Columbia website for details. He believes the plan will cut down on crime and make businesses happy. “What we want to do is enforce the existing laws. You don’t have a right to loiter. You don’t have a right to harass.”
Reportedly at the shelter, they will receive food, showers, a place to sleep and pairing with a service which will help them get off the street long term. But the homeless say it violates their constitutional rights and have been marching in protest supported by some local citizens. One interviewed said it turns the downtown into a gated community where if the homeless come in, they will be arrested.
Homelessness is a huge problem and other cities like Tampa and Portland are now taking similar measures. Tampa has the highest homeless rate in the U.S. at roughly 16,000, with one in five of them being children. Sarasota termed homelessness “lodging out of doors” and prohibited it in 2005. In the same year, Little Rock’s only day shelter where the homeless could wash clothes, Saint Francis House, closed due to withdrawal of funds.
In Dallas in September of 2005, a new ordinance passed that penalizes charities, churches and other organizations serving food to the needy anywhere outside of city designated areas. Anyone camping or sleeping in a car or in public within Flagstaff city limits may be fined up to $2,500 and 6 months in jail for trespassing and camping violations.
Anita Beaty of the Task Force for the Homeless said, “Atlanta planners seem to believe that if you remove people’s housing, eliminate emergency shelter that they will then need, and then make asking for help illegal, their necessary support services available only through an incarceration program, the poor people will go someplace else.”
Looking on the green side, that is a lot of water, electrical energy and housing resources being saved and most homeless people do not drive cars. They often support themselves by recycling trash, but their sanitation methods may not be environmentally-friendly. It would be nice to get them back on the tax rolls where they could share the burden of helping the homeless.
Columbia city officials continue to work out details and meet again on September 3, 2013.