South Carolina city makes being homeless illegal

Columbia, South Carolina has passed a law to outlaw homelessness.

(FOX NEWS) South Carolina's capital city is dishing out some southerndiscomfort following a controversial decision to criminalize its homeless.

On Aug. 13, the Columbia City Council approved a plan that effectively makeshomelessness illegal in parts of the city. The proposal forces those who sleepoutdoors to be sent to a shelter on the outskirts of town. Those who don'tcomply will be rounded up and forced to leave or sent to the slammer.

"It's basically a choice between two kinds of jail," Jake Maguire,spokesman for Community Solutions' 100,000 Homes Campaign, told"There's jail and then there's the shelter."

He added, "Once you get there, you can't come and go. You are basicallybrought to a place where you are expected to stay. If you want to go backdowntown, you have to get approval for them to shuttle you back."

But Councilman Cameron Runyan, the man behind the proposal, believes movingColumbia's homeless shelter 15 miles from the city's downtown area can cutcrime and draw in more businesses and opportunities.

"If we don't take care of this big piece of our community and our society,it will erode the entire foundation of what we're trying to build in thiscity," Runyan told the council. "What I see is a giant risk tobusiness."

Under Runyan's "Emergency Homeless Response" plan, homeless-lookingpeople in the city's 36-block downtown district will be asked by police to moveto a shelter on the outskirts of the Columbia. If a person refuses, they couldbe arrested on a range of public nuisance laws.

Once at the shelter, the only way to leave is by reserving a shuttle ride. Tomake sure the homeless don't return, a police officer will be stationed on theroad leading to the downtown district to keep the homeless away.

The plan has received support from Columbia's business leaders who say thecity's homeless problem has been their eroding economic opportunities fordecades.

"As small business owners on Main Street, we see firsthand how thehomeless crisis is affecting the city," Jessica and Joe Kastiner, ownersof Paradise Ice, told the city council. "Please think of the everydaycitizens, the revitalization of Columbia and the safety of everyone."

Columbia attorney Eric Bland agrees.

"The history of the homeless situation in our city is filled with emptypromises, confusing rhetoric and lack of accountability," Bland told cityofficials. "I will be there every step of the way to support this mostworthy plan."

Runyan believes he's giving the city's homeless options but Maguire and othersbelieve his plan is flawed because it does not address the root causes ofhomelessness, tackle permanent solutions or accurately weigh the economicimpacts of shuttling the homeless to shelters instead of securing permanenthousing.

On average, permanent supportive housing - which includes an apartment andservices like rehabilitation - costs around $16,000-$18,000 a year. To keep aperson at a shelter for a year costs $22,000, Maguire said.

Maria Foscarinis, the executive director of the National Law Center onHomelessness and Poverty, called Columbia's plan "an extreme, highlydisturbing example."

But Columbia is not alone. This summer, Portland, Ore., and Tampa, Fla., alsoinitiated steps to boot out their homeless.

Portland's Mayor Charlie Hales announced last month he was fed up with thegrowing number of homeless people camped outside the steps of City Hall andvowed to use the law to crack down on the practice. Portland prohibits"camping" on public property.

Last week, five homeless residents were rounded up and arrested, and themayor's office says that's just the beginning.

Following those arrests, Portland police promised to start rigorously enforcingthe city's camping ban everywhere. There are an estimated 1,700 homeless inPortland.

Dana Haynes, a spokesman for Hales, said the city is arming Portland policewith a list of places where the homeless are known to sleep or "camp"at night.

The Tampa City Council passed a new ordinance 4-3 in July that would allowpolice officers to arrest anyone they see sleeping in public or "storingpersonal property in public."

According to a 2012 homeless study by the U.S. Department of Housing and UrbanDevelopment, five states account for nearly half of the nation's total homelesspopulation. They are: California, New York, Florida, Texas and Georgia.

The 2012 Point-in-Time Estimates of Homelessness study also found that amongmid-sized cities, Tampa and its surrounding area had the highest number ofhomeless individuals at 7,419.

During the 1990s, then New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani planned to removehomeless people from shelters if they refused to work. New York City cops alsostarted handing out $76 citations to the homeless who "camped inpublic."