Target: Columbia, South Carolina City Council
Goal: Do not exile homeless population
In Columbia, South Carolina a city council has unanimously passed an ordinance called “Emergency Homeless Response” to remove its homeless population from its downtown area. The city has promised to work in collaboration with a local charity to convert an emergency shelter into a 24-hour shelter for the homeless located in the outskirts of the city. The city will also provide a shuttle for the homeless to reach the shelter. Those who refuse to remove themselves will be arrested and transferred to the shelter.
However, homeless advocates say that will not be a sufficient solution. The shelter has a carrying capacity of only 240, while the expected number of homeless seeking shelter due to this new law will be an estimated 1,518. Despite not being able to outline an adequate plan to accommodate the expected influx of homeless, the city has also made it illegal for the homeless to leave the premises of the shelter once they are admitted. Anyone caught leaving the premises will face possible jail time. This restriction of movement is a de-facto jail sentence.
An out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach to homelessness is counterintuitive to alleviating the problem. It will shift the burden to the city fringes and overwhelm homeless shelters. Getting the homeless on their feet and off the streets permanently by offering them jobs is the only viable long-term solution. This law is a violation of the homeless’ rights for freedom of assembly and equal treatment under the law. A South Carolina American Civil Liberties Union director named Susan Dunn said, “The underlying design is that they want the homeless not to be visible in downtown Columbia. You can shuttle them somewhere or you can go to jail. That’s, in fact, an abuse of power.”
Sign this petition to pressure members of Columbia City Council to repeal its law.
Dear Members of Columbia’s City Council,
A homeless person’s rights should not be discounted. This piece of legislation only sweeps the problem under the rug. It will only exacerbate the homeless problem and spread the problem elsewhere.
While the plan for a 24-hour homeless shelter is a welcomed proposition, it is not adequate to accommodate the exiled population. Threats of incarceration are the last thing the homeless population needs. Jails are overcrowded as they currently are, and the homeless certainly do not belong there. Restriction of movement from the shelter is inhumane and is essentially a jail sentence.
I implore you to discard the ordinance and propose a viable and productive long term plan to help the homeless off the streets.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: Franco Folini via Flickr