With the simultaneous, coordinated crackdown on those who are homeless – and criminalizing feeding the homeless that has exploded across over 50 cities nationwide in the last two years – it almost makes one wonder if they will suddenly just start to disappear….
A city council plan in Columbia, South Carolina broke open when it was learned that the city manager and police chief seemed appalled and said they didn’t go along with the actions, wanting to do things “the legal, proper way.”
What was the plan and what makes it a human rights violation that has the manager and chief concerned?
City council members voted unanimously on August 13 that homeless people could no longer loiter, sleep, or eat in the downtown streets. Their choices? Get arrested or go to a remote shelter. Extra police would be needed to patrol and carry out either task.
The plan is already complete with an urgent Emergency Homeless Response report. And that report includes information about hauling the homeless away in transport vans to an already stationed shelter with workers, phone number for townspeople to report “the person in need,” an officer stationed to control foot traffic, public feeding moved there, more foot patrol officers for the city to keep out the homeless – oh, and the homeless can’t walk off the premises!
If they want to leave, they must get permission, set up an appointment and be shuttled by a transport van. A patrolman will guard the road leading in to make sure homeless don’t wander off downtown. Ex-prisoners will be shuttled there unless someone picks them up from the county jail. No foot traffic allowed – only shuttle van arrival.
But what if someone in the city only looks homeless? Will people sitting and eating get harassed and questioned on their living status?
Interim Police Chief Ruben Santiago said:
Homelessness is not a crime. I’ve got to have the legal right (to question or take anyone into custody). 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 State reports:
Interim Police Chief Ruben Santiago said his department cannot transport homeless adults to the riverfront shelter to get services nor can police tell them they would be charged with a nuisance offense should they refuse.
City manager Teresa Wilson said that neither she, Santiago nor City Council has agreed to transfer any police officers to enforce laws that prohibit loitering, trespassing or other public nuisance offenses in the 36-block Main Street financial and retail district.
“I think there are some misconceptions out there that police are going to go out there and scoop up the homeless. We want to make sure we’re doing things the legal, proper way.”
[Santiago] said police policy prohibits not filing a charge for volunteering to accept services. “That’s basically cutting a deal. It’s basically coercion.”
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The plan was spearheaded by Councilman Cameron Runyan who doesn’t understand the criticism:
We don’t think there is any (constitutional) violation.
This is not about hurting people. It’s about helping them. But we’re not going to allow them to live on our streets anymore.
There are people who are going to resist it. It’s unfortunate that we’re going to have to give them some tough love.
What is the basis for such “tough love”? More and appealing commerce … to help with homelessness. Business owners had legitimate complaints, but the urgency of the counterforce is questionable.
It is considered by the report:
An acute emergency in the heart of the city that is having a highly detrimental impact upon the commerce community, downtown neighborhoods and the perception of safety and quality of life in the capital city
However, a town with people calling in tips to round up the homeless in what is essentially a concentration camp with no foreseeable exit, police patrolling on the lookout, transport vans filled with people, and questioning residents on living status might resemble a dystopian nightmare that isn’t quite appealing to tourists or residents.
And the shelter only holds 240 people but there are over 1,500 homeless in the Columbia area – what now, City Council? Shoot them into outer space?
Advocate groups are talking about filing suit. Unfortunately, it sounds like absent some outcry, Santiago will submit suggestions to manager Wilson and she will present recommendations at next month’s meeting. That spells compromise – how much of a compromise would be necessary in order to prevent indefinite detention of the homeless?
In a parallel universe, the homeless attempt to clean up the streets:
Related Activist Post Article:
Myrtle Beach Outlaws Feeding the Homeless on Public AND Private Property
Read other articles by Amanda Warren Here