By: Scott Keyes
Last August, the city of Columbia, South Carolina approved a new plan to give its homeless population an impossible choice: leave downtown or be arrested.
The city is now taking even more steps to criminalize homelessness. On Saturday, it will begin to strictly enforce an old and seldom-used ordinance requiring groups of 25 or more to obtain a permit and pay a hefty fee before congregating in a public park.
One impacted charity that was interviewed by the Free Times, Food Not Bombs, has been serving food to the homeless in Finlay Park every Sunday for 12 years. The group’s organizer, Judith Turnipseed, noted that the group has an impeccable track record and always tidies up after the meal. But with the new crackdown, Food Not Bombs will have to pay at least $120 per week for the right to feed the homeless, an extremely tall order for a group that’s not even an official 501(c)(3) organization but just serves out of the goodness of its heart.
In fact, stopping groups like Food Not Bombs from serving may be just the point. Since the Columbia City Council approved its exile plan in August, the city has been trying to herd its homeless people to a shelter on the outskirts of town and keep them away from downtown. If charities continue to provide food in downtown parks, the thinking goes, it will allow homeless people to continue to live downtown, rather than being forced to leave.
Turnipseed is currently considering legal action to prevent enforcement of the measure.
Columbia is part of an unfortunate trend of cities that have decided to crack down on charity groups that feed the homeless. Others that have passed or are considering ordinances include Raleigh, St. Louis, Harrisburg, and Los Angeles.