Target: Steve Benjamin, Mayor of Columbia, South Carolina
Goal: End criminalization of the homeless
South Carolina’s capital city of Columbia has passed a homelessness criminalization plan that may be one of the most far-reaching in existence. The new act is so odious that even parts of the city’s own government want nothing to do with it.
Columbia’s new “Emergency Homeless Response” plan mandates that police patrol the downtown area for homeless in violation of loitering or other “quality of life” offenses. Those who are apprehended are told they can either go to a 240-bed winter shelter on the city’s periphery or be arrested.
What is the rationale for this extreme action? City Councilman Cameron Runyan, the plan’s backer, believes that it is necessary to improve the economy. He has stated “We have to understand that the only cure for poverty is commerce. That is the only true response to poverty…So if poverty is unchecked, it will destroy commerce.” Essentially, he is saying that those in poverty must be criminalized to protect businesses, which will then somehow end the poverty of those who are criminalized.
This callous plan has caused fractures in the city government, as Interim Police Chief Ruben Santiago and City Manager Teresa Wilson have refused to commit additional police to its enforcement. Santiago openly voiced his objections, stating that “Homelessness is not a crime…We can’t just take people to somewhere they don’t want to go. I can’t do that. I won’t do that.”
The Huffington Post notes that the 240-bed shelter “can’t accommodate the estimated 1,621 [homeless] people living on the streets of Columbia” and that the National Law Center for Homelessness & Poverty has found sheltering the homeless costs only $28 compared to $87 per person per day for imprisoning them. The plight of the homeless in Columbia needs real solutions, not criminalization. By signing this petition, you will ask the city of Columbia to drop its Emergency Homeless Response plan.
Dear Mayor Benjamin,
As you know, the Columbia City Council recently passed a new “Emergency Homeless Response” plan. Unfortunately, it does nothing to help the homeless and in fact criminalizes them in the name of creating a clean downtown for business.
This plan mandates that police patrol the downtown area for homeless in violation of loitering or other “quality of life” offenses. Those who are apprehended are told they can either go to a 240-bed winter shelter on the city’s periphery or be arrested.
It is hard to see how a shelter this small could accommodate the approximately 1,621 homeless population of Columbia. Moreover, both City Manager Theresa Wilson and Interim Police Chief Ruben Santiago have objected to the Emergency Homeless Response plan by refusing to authorize additional police personnel to enforce it. Santiago has stated “Homelessness is not a crime…We can’t just take people to somewhere they don’t want to go. I can’t do that. I won’t do that.”
Columbia needs a real plan to end homelessness with long-term solutions, not the short-sightedness of the current Emergency Homeless Response. I urge you and the City Council to end criminalization of the homeless in Columbia.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: Badbad via Wikimedia Commons