COLUMBIA, S.C. — Columbia leaders are working to curb homelessness in the city with a new task force "to prevent and end homelessness," according to council member Aditi Bussells.
"I’ve been through divorce, I’ve been through 2 family members dying within two years," said Connie Young, who is experiencing homelessness in Columbia. "I’ve raised both of my daughters by myself, and this is still the hardest thing I’ve been through."
Young says she has been in and out of Transitions, a center to help those experiencing homelessness, located in downtown Columbia.
"All it takes is the lack of income, and everybody’s scared to let you come to their house," Young said. "I don't drink. I don't smoke. I don't sleep around. I didn't have anywhere to go."
She says some people, like herself, have worked their whole lives to have what they need, but sometimes still can't afford housing. "I used to have a job and a house and a car, kids, the whole nine yards," Young said.
Young told News 19 she has been homeless since 2012. For the past year, she's been living with one of her daughters but fears and believes that could change, any day. "You never know what that rug's going to be snatched out from under you."
The city's new task force was federally funded $27M from the American Rescue Act. Other members on the task force include: Councilman Will Brennan, Councilman Ed McDowell, Columbia Police Department, Elmwood Neighborhood President, Five Points Association, City Center Partnership, and other community advocates.
"It’s a balance between making our city vibrant and well, but also providing our most vulnerable population the resources that they need," Bussells said. "One thing that the city can do is bring all of our provides together to ensure that we have a continuum of services to allow our homeless to take advantage of these things."
Bussells says they plan to hire more clinicians for the Columbia Police Department (CPD) to respond to incidents involving those experiencing homelessness and others.
"We will embed more clinicians," Bussells said. "Right now we only have one. "We will add 5 clinicians into our crisis response teams."
Bussells says the city is currently working with CPD to identify homeless hotspots.
John Wilkinson, president of the Elmwood Neighborhood Association, says they are working with the city to combat the issue.
"We’ve worked with Transitions, we’ve worked with CPD to try to have their outreach folks come out and relocate folks and connect them to the services that they need," Wilkinson said.
Elmwood resident Denise Jolly said she has noticed more people experiencing homelessness coming into her community park and the growing number is a safety concern for children.
"People have seen bundles of things stashed and things that have been hidden for them to come back," Jolly said. "My fear is that one of my children or someone else's child coming into contact with something that could potentially be dangerous."
Jolly says she worked in social work and understands it's not as simple as telling someone they need to leave and go somewhere else.
"I know that this is not a situation that can be fixed right away or there's an easy solution to it," Jolly said. "I would love to see maybe some kind of center for them to hang out during the daytime where it is controlled, that's a safe environment for them, where maybe there are classes offered. There's things beyond that, and I understand that. We have the shelters that are overrun right now. And it's me it's a problem."
Both Jolly and Young are reminding the community to be compassionate.
"It doesn’t get easier the older your get," Jolly said. "Nobody wants to see anybody suffering and nobody wants anybody to be in a bad place," Jolly said.
Bussells says the city's task force will have a budgeting meeting next week with a goal of approving a final plan to start June 1.