Columbia, South Carolina, Bans Homeless People From City Centre

A US city has approved a plan to evict more than 1,500 homeless people as they are having an adverse effect on local businesses. The vagrants collect daily close to a parking lot in the downtown area of Columbia, South Carolina, waiting for several shelters to open.

However, after business owners and residents complained that the vagrants swear at passers-by and make the area feel generally unsafe, the council voted unanimously to ban them from the downtown area, with violators threatened with arrest and a stint in jail.

It is now illegal to be homeless in Columbia (file photo)

They just scare people,” Richard Balser, a local business owner, told The New York Times. “People are afraid to get out of their cars when they see a homeless person.”

A shelter outside the city limits has been offered as an alternative venue for the homeless to congregate, however there is only enough room for around 250 people, far less than the city’s estimated number of vagrants. Those lucky enough to get a bed will not be allowed to leave except by pre-arranged shuttle bus, which will not go into Columbia.

The police are to patrol the downtown areas to make sure the law is enforced, while business owners have been told to call a police hotline if they spot an offender.

The move has caused disquiet among civil rights groups, who have complained that the homeless are being given a choice of jail, leaving town or going to a shelter outside the city that they're not allowed to leave.

Speaking to Think Progress, Michael Stoops, Director of Community Organizing at the National Coalition for the Homeless, said the plan was the “most comprehensive anti-homeless measure that [he had] ever seen proposed in any city in the last 30 years.