Columbia, South Carolina, bans homeless people from its downtown


A homeless man named Bob waits for donations from passing motorists on October 11, 2012 in Camden, New Jersey. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Camden, New Jersey is now the most impoverished city in the United States with nearly 32,000 of Camden's residents living below the poverty line.


Spencer Platt

South Carolina's capital, Columbia, has made a plan to ban homeless people from its downtown area because of fears they will prevent the city from becoming an economic hotspot.

Those living on the streets of downtown Columbia will be given three options: go to jail, leave town or head to a shelter on the outskirts of the city.

The homeless currently gather daily near a downtown parking lot as they wait for shelters to open. Business owners in the city have complained that they have been swearing at people as they pass by and that they make the area feel unsafe.

"People are afraid to get out of their cars when they see a homeless person," Richard Balser, a local business owner, told The New York Times. "They haven't been a problem. They just scare people."

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If any of the 1,500 homeless people living in Columbia decide to take the option of heading to the shelter on the outskirts of town, they'll have to hope they are lucky enough to get one of the only 250 beds available. Those who do get a bed will only be able to leave the shelter by way of a pre-arranged shuttle bus, which will not go in to Columbia.

The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty has called the ban an "extreme, highly disturbing example" of targeting the homeless. The new policy also includes a plan to put more police on the streets of the 36-block area, which includes the city's business district and the main access road to the shelter. Arrests could be made under public nuisance laws for things like loitering and trespassing if homeless people stay in or return to Columbia's centre.

Residents will also be able to call a newly implemented hotline to report any homeless people they see downtown.

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