The city of Columbia, South Carolina is taking its war on the homeless a step further. The city will now strictly enforce an old, rarely-used ordinance requiring groups of 25 people or more to obtain a permit and pay a hefty fee before gathering in a city park, partly in an effort to control groups who feed homeless people, the Free-Times reports.
On Saturday, the city began enforcing an existing park permit ordinance that requires any group of 25 or more people that hold an event at a city park to file an application for a permit at least 15 days in advance. Many groups who feed the homeless across the city will now face fees for doing so.
One well-known group that feeds the homeless in Columbia’s city parks is Food Not Bombs. One of the group’s organizers, Judith Turnipseed, told the Free-Times that applying for a permit isn’t a problem, but the fees are.
“We have no formal organization,” she said. “We’re just a group of people who come to the park and bring food and share it with anyone who comes. That includes people who are homeless, [and] people who have a home but are hungry.”
Turnipseed has read the fee ordinance and estimates that her group will have to pay at least $120 a week.
In August, the Columbia City Council voted to ban homeless citizens from its city center. Their plan, Emergency Homeless Response, mandates that homeless people be evacuated and relocated or face arrest. The plan included operating an emergency winter shelter on the city’s riverfront; however, the shelter can accommodate only 240 people. The homeless population of Richland County was estimated at 1,518 last year.
The plan also allows for increased police patrols to enforce the homeless ban. “Police are not supposed to coerce people into behavior,” Susan Dunn, the legal director of South Carolina’s Charleston-based ACLU chapter told The State last year. “The whole nexus of the relationship between law enforcement and the citizen is that… they have to have reasonable suspicion of a crime.”
According to the Free-Times, many of the tensions surrounding criminalizing the city’s homeless began last year when Columbia City Councilman Cameron Runyan laid out plans to address homelessness, including an out-of-town homeless rehabilitation center and enforcing strict laws and ordinances.