South Carolina Council Reverses Criminalization Law

We posted two blog entries about the absurd Columbia South Carolina law that would require homeless people to seek shelter or go to jail.  With all the national attention and pressure put on the City from national groups like the National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Law Center, the petitions on Change.org and the national media stories was too much for the City Council.  They backed away from the law and will go in a different direction.  It is amazing to me that they did not have the backing of their own police, and that not one council member saw the potential problems associated with this legislation to vote against it. 

According to the Huffington Post which quoted the Columbia Free Times,

“I will take responsibility for that getting into the public discourse,” Councilman Cameron Runyan said on Tuesday about his suggestion to force homeless people into confinement, according to the Free Times. “That is not the desire…We are not going to forcibly confine anyone.”

Instead the City is planning to expand outreach efforts with vans and will try the old standby of discouraging people from giving to panhandlers.  While certainly not as punative, these new efforts will have about as much success as their last plan.  The City Council does not seem to understand how federal benefit programs work.  They are proposing to steal the food stamp and social security benefits from the disabled and impoverished to pay for these programs.  We hope that this plan is adopted so that Columbia's City Council members can face Justice Department lawyers who could seek indictments for shaking down poor people to pay for government services.  Is Columbia South Carolina being run by a group of middle schoolers who have not yet passed their government classes?

Brian Davis

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Police Oppose Columbia South Carolina Law

We wrote about this "crazy South Carolina law"  in the last two week, but it turns out that not even the police agree with the scope of this law.  Huffington Post printed an article on August 28, detailing Columbia Interim Police Chief Ruben Santiago's opposition to the new law.  The National Law Center has been raising concerns about this issue and staff appeared on MSNBC last week.  The Huffington Post quoted the acting police chief saying, " We can't just take people to somewhere they don't want to go.  I can't do that. I won't do that." 

It is amazing that the legislation was passed without opposition at the Council.  No one thought that this might be a violation of constitutional rights of the low income?  Then the comments made by Councilman Cameron Runyan in the face of this opposition is even more amazing.  This was his quote in the Huffington Post article, "We have to understand that the only cure for poverty is commerce." This is the basis of his law, which is a fundamental misunderstanding of the problem.  Commerce does not get a person who cannot work (long term disabled) more income.  People who have a criminal background and cannot find a job are far away from the ability to engage in legal commerce.  Commerce does not cure the individual who is addicted and can only find programs that will help after she has cured herself.   It is no wonder that they came up with such a misguided solution when they were starting with the premise that poverty has been left unchecked thus destroying commerce. 

Councilman Runyan was willing to say publicly that the suffering of his citizens who are without housing was hurting businesses. He did not mention the impact on the kids, their schools or the breakup of families. This policy of arresting people who do not go into shelter has so many problems with putting business over the welfare of his own citizens among the top.  I believe that all of these Councilmembers should be fired from their elected office for their stunning lack of human decency or concern for their own voters.  Is it hubris or a lack of understanding or an inability to grasp complex issues?  These men and women elected to represent all the residents (including those without a fixed residence) need to spend the weekend on the streets of Columbia to see how things work.  They need to host a group of homeless people to talk about the issues, and most of all they need to repeal this law and convene a plan to provide safety and security rather than jail to those proud homeowners foreclosed on in Columbia or former tenants who are waiting for disability screenings. 

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

Columbia South Carolina Passes Crazy Law

It is easy to make fun of the Southern states, and their commitment to bad government.  From their defense of religious symbols in public places in violation of the US Constitution to voting against their own interests on a regular basis.  I mean most states below the Mason Dixon are last in education, access to health care, life span rates, and income levels, but they continue to elect state officials who never address the quality of life issues faced by their constituents.  Instead they focus on railing against Obamacare or federal regulations or raising fears about a threat to the second amendment to get re-elected. 

Columbia South Carolina passed a shocking ordinance to limit the number of homeless people within their borders by a unanimous vote of the City Council.  It is easy to laugh this off as another crazy law from backward legislators, but this law is especially disturbing.  Urban homelessness disproportionately impacts African Americans in the United States.  In Cuyahoga County 80% of the homeless population are black while according to the US Census the overall county statistics show that only 30% of the total population are African American.  The Columbia South Carolina Mayor is black and four out of the seven City Council members are black yet they all voted to make it illegal to be homeless in the city.  The Council said that they were concerned that they were becoming a "magnet for homeless people"  as the reason for this nonsensical response.

The Huffington Post article details the high cost of incarcerating individuals for violating this new law when compared to offering housing to the population.  The cost of incarcerating an individual for six months in Columbia is $9,000.  The cost of paying 100% of a person's rent for six months in a one bedroom apartment at the fair market rent would be $3,870.  The ordinance would give people on the streets the option to relocate or get arrested for living outside.  There would be police stationed at the shelter to monitor the streets, and a hotline will be established to "report" homeless people violating the law to be "removed."   This would mean that people would have to stay in a shelter, go to jail or leave the city limits.  

What happened to the "get government off our backs crowd?"  What happened to the Columbia law director not seeing the many constitutional violations here?   What happened to the majority African American Columbia City Council not seeing how this will have a disproportionate effect on blacks?  What happened to the freedom of movement?  Is there any evidence anywhere that law enforcement is good at scaring people into not being homeless?  Business owners are complaining that they have thrown money at the problem for 20 years and it has only gotten worse, so they are giving up and making it illegal to lose your housing. 

Cooperative homeless people will be given the option to go to a remote 240-person bed emergency shelter, which will be open from September to March. The shelter will also be used as a drop-off for people recently released from prison and jail, too.

The City Council members actually believe that making a segment of their poor population into criminals will "open up a window of opportunity."  It seems that the only opportunity created would be the opportunity to leave the state. The Gospel Mission staff quoted in the article stated the obvious in the most understated manner claiming that this might give off the impression that Columbia does not want homeless people.

According to ThinkProgress, clients at the shelter will not be allowed to leave the premises without permission and a police officer will stand guard at the road leading to the building.

They have decided on expanding public housing in the form of jails instead of building affordable housing.  They have decided on deportation orders rather than operating safe places for everyone to put their head at night.   They have opted for punishments for people making mistakes rather than forgiveness and offering safety to those struggling.  It is slapping on handcuffs over a hand up.  It is distrust of your fellow man conquering the religious conviction to help your brother. 

Brian Davis

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