The Least of These…


Homeless in SC

Although I tried to summarize this article in a couple of seperate attempts, I could not do it justice.   That said, I have decided to re-post it directly here.  This article was posted on Nation of Change/Human Rights on August 21, 2013:

South Carolina City Approves Plan to Exile its Homeless,  By Scott Keyes

Many homeless people in Columbia, South Carolina are facing an arduous choice: vacate downtown or be arrested.

That’s because last week, the Columbia City Council unanimously approved a new plan — the Emergency Homeless Response” — to remove homeless people from the downtown business district. Here’s how the initiative, which was spearheaded by Councilman Cameron Runyan (D), will work.

Police officers will now be assigned to patrol the city center and keep homeless people out. They will also be instructed to strictly enforce the city’s “quality of life” laws, including bans on loitering, public urination, and other violations. And just to ensure that no one slips through, the city will set up a hotline so local businesses and residents can report the presence of a homeless person to police.

In order to accommodate all the homeless people who will now be banned from downtown, the city will partner with a local charity to keep an emergency shelter on the outskirts of town open 24 hours a day. However, it’s unlikely the shelter, which can handle 240 guests, will be enough to handle the local homeless population, which numbers more than six times the available beds.

Homeless people can stay at the shelter, but they’re not permitted to walk off the premises. In fact, Columbia will even post a police officer on the road leading to the shelter to ensure that homeless people don’t walk towards downtown. If they want to leave, they need to set up an appointment and be shuttled by a van.

In other words, the 1,518 homeless people in the Columbia-area now have a choice: get arrested downtown or be confined to a far-away shelter that you can’t readily leave. Jail or pseudo-jail.

Michael Stoops, Director of Community Organizing at the National Coalition for the Homeless, told ThinkProgress that this measure was the “most comprehensive anti-homeless measure that [he had] ever seen proposed in any city in the last 30 years.” He likened it to county poor farms that were prevalent throughout the Midwest many decades ago. “Using one massive shelter on the outskirts to house all a city’s homeless is something that has never worked anywhere in the country,” Stoops said.

Homeless advocates may soon file suit to overturn the plan, arguing that the plan violates homeless peoples’ rights to equal treatment under the law and freedom of assembly. The South Carolina ACLU is also exploring the matter. Susan Dunn, the group’s legal director, was highly critical. “The underlying design is that they want the homeless not to be visible in downtown Columbia,” Dunn said. “You can shuttle them somewhere or you can go to jail. That’s, in fact, an abuse of power.”

Columbia’s move mirrors an unfortunate trend sweeping cities across the country: criminalizing homelessness. Already this year, cities as disparate as Miami and Tampa to Palo Alto have passed various ordinances making it virtually illegal to be homeless inside city limits.

~*~

After reading the article, and accessing the actual presentation (see link below) part of the justification for this horrific plan, rests with the words from a local minister.  He was quoted in a section of the presentation detailling the plan’s justification.  His quote in full as used, is as follows:

 “The downtown business district is at a crossroad. Economic development is an important issue for the city. A prosperous, vibrant city needs a prosperous, vibrant downtown area that is perceived as having an environment that is safe for all; families, women and children…The problems are increasing and becoming more volatile…A serious incident could occur at any time with tragic repercussions…The future success of the city depends on what action the council takes now.

–Rev. Fr. Michael Platanis, Protopresbyter, Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church (see link below)

Assuming that even if his words were used as justification for this plan, that he could not have endorsed a plan that stands so contradictory to the Gospel, I decided to offer him my fullest and complete prayers of support as he stands against this decision.  Acknowledging that this must be a trying time for this community, I have also sent following letter to Fr. Michael.

I encourage others to reach out, using the information below, to prayerfully and vocally support those who stand opposed to this effort.  I pray that with the combined efforts of faith leaders like Father Michael and the greater faith community of Columbia, SC that this action be repealed before one of the least among us is further hurt.

Shalom, S.

~*~

HOLY TRINITY GREEK ORTHODOX CHURCH
E-MAIL: newsmyrna@gmail.com  WEBSITE: http://www.holytrinitysc.com

Dear Rev. Father Michael Platanis,

I have recently learned of Columbia, SC’s efforts to manage its homelessness situation, and was deeply disturbed by the City Council’s proposed solution.  As part of the city’s justification of this harsh and insensitive remedy, you were quoted as stressing that a challenge is at hand, and that the future livelihood of the “city depends on what action the council takes now.”

I am sure that in light of your esteemed role in the Columbia, SC Community and as a respected civic and faith leader that you stand alongside me and countless others, who find this solution both repugnant and hurtful to the most marginalized among us.  I am writing to acknowledge that many like me – despite great geographic distances – stand with your congregation and others in your community, in the staunch and vocal opposition to these plans.

In the media coverage of this report I am reminded of a moment in the ministry of Jesus, when after a long evening of ministry and preaching His disciples took him aside and said; “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.”

In response, Jesus looked out at the crowd and stated that they need not go away but instead insisted that the disciples give them something to eat.  Shortly after that exchange, we learn of the miracle of the 5 loaves and 2 fishes feeding the 5,000 hungry.  (Matthew 14:15-21)  In that story, we are again reminded of our call to feed the hungry, comfort the hurting, and aid the homeless.

In the end, I fear if the city council’s efforts remain unchallenged, that not only with the least among us be put into a situation where their hurt will increase, but the livelihood of the Christian message and witness in Columbia will be damaged.    With the attention this situation is gaining across the country, that risk appears more imminent and likely. 

The shortsighted and harsh treatment to Columbia’s homeless seems to stand contrary to the words of  1 John 3:17-18, which reminds us all of the question  “if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?   Little children, let us not love in word or talk, but in deed and truth. (ESV)”  

We pray that you, and the faithful in your community, continue to find the strength, and the voice that Columbia, SC needs at this most challenging juncture.    Again, please know that you are in my prayers.

With God’s Shalom and my fullest prayers for your community,

Pastor Scott Masters

Asbury United Methodist Church

Chesterfield, New Hampshire

www.chesterfieldumc.org

 

~*~

For further information, please visit”

From “The State” Columbia, SC News:

http://www.thestate.com/2013/08/17/2926212/columbia-homeless-plan-draws-heated.html

The Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church of Columbia South Carolina

http://www.holytrinitysc.com/

The Emergency Homeless Response of Columbia, SC

http://www.columbiasc.net/depts/city_council/downloads/08_13_2013_Agenda_Items/Emergency_Homeless_Response_13_August_2013.pdf

Nation of Change/Human Rights on August 21, 2013- SC City Approves Plan to Exile its Homeless

http://www.nationofchange.org/south-carolina-city-approves-plan-exile-its-homeless-1377090413

“The Least of These” is a direct reference to Matthew 25:31-46

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+25%3A31-46&version=NIV

(The Pic was also used in the original post from “Nation of Change” with no apparent credit given)

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