Target: Columbia City Councilman Cameron Runyan
Goal: Stop criminalizing attempts to help those in need
The city of Columbia, South Carolina is infamous for its efforts to criminalize homelessness, issuing an ultimatum to local people experiencing homelessness that they could leave the downtown area or face jail time. Other efforts to control the movements of the homeless population in Columbia include attempts to coordinate the groups that provide food for those who need it, such that now most meals are held at the Calhoun Street emergency shelter. The city has recently stepped up efforts to shuttle people experiencing homelessness to a shelter at the fringes of town by announcing it will begin to enforce an old law that requires people to obtain permits and pay exorbitant fees for all gatherings of 25 or more people in any public park.
This announcement targets groups that, lacking an indoor space, feed the hungry in public parks, including the city’s well-known chapter of Food Not Bombs, which has been meeting every Sunday for 12 years to share food among people experiencing homelessness and hungry folks of all stripes. Columbia’s director of parks and recreation insists that the ordinance will help prevent situations where large groups overstretch the capacity of parks’ trash cans, space, and bathroom facilities. However, Food Not Bombs has a reputation for cleaning up after its mealtimes — and the organization has been told it is unwelcome to help feed at the Calhoun Street shelter, accused of “stir[ring] up the homeless.”
Columbia’s efforts to put its homeless population out of sight and out of mind originated in part thanks to Councilman Cameron Runyan, whose plan to address this issue included enforcing loitering laws and building a rehabilitation center for the homeless outside of city limits. This plan does not solve the problem of homelessness that plagues many Americans; it merely moves the problem to an area where wealthy citizens do not have to encounter it.
By signing this petition, you are condemning Councilman Runyan’s plan, a disappointing legacy that further disenfranchises people experiencing homelessness in our urban communities. You are urging Councilman Runyan to empower people experiencing homelessness instead of just shuttling them away from downtown.
Dear Councilman Runyan and the Columbia City Council,
I am highly disappointed in the legacy of Columbia’s treatment of people experiencing homelessness. Your plan neglects to solve the problems that cause and are caused by homelessness; it only removes the problems from downtown areas by keeping those experiencing homelessness out and cutting down their options for finding meals and other assistance. By forcing groups that feed the hungry and homeless to obtain permits and pay exorbitant fees, you are preventing them from helping people who need assistance, and you are further disenfranchising those people who already feel acutely their lack of agency.
I am calling on you to stop criminalizing homelessness and attempts to help those in need. I am urging you to follow the example of Salt Lake City and other cities that have begun to solve the problems of homelessness at their core, empowering people experiencing homelessness by providing homes and case workers to help them rebuild and take control of their own lives.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: JMSuarez via Wikimedia Commons