The Daily Gamecock

Being homeless should not be illegal

City Council’s new proposal will only perpetuate the problem

A proposal was unanimously approved recently by Columbia City Council to make homelessness illegal in Columbia. The proposal, entitled the Emergency Homeless Response, deems any homeless person who does not leave the city subject to arrest or relocation to a 240-bed homeless shelter on the outskirts of Columbia. Those taken to the shelter will not be allowed to leave on their own, and the road leading to the building will be guarded by police.

There is no denying the vast presence of the homeless population in Columbia, especially in our downtown areas. The problem certainly should be addressed but not in a way that compromises the freedom of so many individuals in our city.

This creates the first major complication in the City Council’s proposal, which is the clear overcrowding that would occur in the shelter. The 240-bed shelter that is planned to take in the homeless population would only accommodate roughly one-sixth of the roughly 1,600 homeless people currently estimated to live in Columbia, according to the Midlands Area Consortium for the Homeless.

It’s a lose-lose situation. Homeless people will be forced to choose between jail and a shelter that might as well be jail. In some ways, jail could be the preferable option, as they’d at least be guaranteed a bed. No matter which option they choose, they are essentially giving up their freedom. Many will likely choose to risk jail by continuing to sleep on the street.

This plan is only going to perpetuate the cycle that homeless people are already trapped in. Once they’re released from jail or the jail-like shelter, these individuals will still be without a home. They’ll be in the same position they were before.

The reasoning behind this seems to be a desire to preserve Columbia’s image as a up-and-coming city, regardless of how that may affect the freedom of a substantial number of people living here.
Although the decision has already been set into motion, lawsuits from nonprofit organizations focused on helping the homeless are being considered. Hopefully, these groups will be able to continue to provide their service and put an end to this proposal, which is hurting the homeless by taking one of the few things they have left: their freedom.