City Defends Divisive Homelessness Plan

6:53 PM, Aug 26, 2013   |    comments
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Columbia, SC (WLTX) -- Columbia's plan to address homelessness is gaining national attention, with people questioning the constitutionality and fairness of the plan.

City leaders and supporters met Monday to defend the proposal, as advocates for the city's homeless population were forced to wait outside.

"This is the first major action that Columbia has taken on dealing with homelessness in 20 years, if not longer than that," said Mayor Steve Benjamin.

He says it is a tough issue to take on, but they say the city's looking for a new way to create change and Columbia attorney Eric Bland says it deserves a shot.

"It's a brave plan, it's a bold plan, and I think it deserves the opportunity to be discussed, to give it an opportunity to see if it will work because there's been 20 years or rhetoric, and 20 years of these agencies supplying these services and we're not making progress," said Bland, who hosted the news conference at his law office. He says people sleep on his office's porch and his employees have been harassed by panhandlers.

Bland says he supports the plan because it balances the rights of the homeless population, business owners and those who live in the downtown area.

The issue has quickly become divisive, with Bland asking those who opposed it to leave the property before holding the news conference inside his downtown business.

Pamela Greenlaw, an opponent of the plan, had hoped to hear what the city's leaders would say about the plan. Instead she stood outside on the sidewalk with others.

"The city must have a public process that will create unity as well as buy-in for a long-term comprehensive plan. At this point, the city is not working to bring everybody to the same table," said Greenlaw. She thinks the city should have included the public in the decision making process and been more open.

James Kriner, who is homeless, says he finds the plan ridiculous, saying people are applying the actions of some to everyone.

"I just feel like nobody cares. When I don't have nothin, I ask somebody could I have a dollar so I can get something to eat, they're just like F-off," said Kriner.

Some opponents question the constitutionality of the plan, but supporters say they're confident the proposal would be cleared in the courts if the city faced any legal action.

"This effort is an attempt to bring together very different universes to move us forward in a spirit of cooperation and collaboration," said Columbia City Councilman Cameron Runyon.

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