This is what people are talking about in Columbia, S.C. these days. Other than Gamecock football, of course!
It’s embarrassing when the capital city of a large state such as Columbia, S.C. makes the national news for what appears to be its heartless stance on the homeless. Columbia has a homeless problem, but it isn’t the homeless people. It’s the politicians, business owners, residents and everyone else complaining about the homeless population downtown.
This city’s been struggling with this issue for at least the 20 years I’ve been living here. And here’s why:
If you feed a stray cat at your back door, the cat is no longer a stray. It’s yours. You may not vaccinate, worm or bathe it, but it’s yours. You might not let it in your house, or even the garage, but it’s yours.
I’m not heartless and I’m not suggesting homeless people go hungry. I’m suggesting Columbia quit feeding the homeless at the back door. Did it never occur to anyone that the free dinners in the park, lunches provided by church groups and other handouts are why the homeless congregate downtown?
Oliver Gospel Mission
Helping the homeless since 18888
What baffles me is the city’s refusal to model any of the Oliver Gospel Mission’s methods of working with our homeless population. The Mission has been operating for over 125 years in the in the heart of downtown Columbia. It must be doing something right because homeless people aren’t loitering there all day and night and its programs are thriving. Ask any of the staff why that is.
Yes, it’s a faith-based organization, but they don’t require conversion or a proclamation of faith. The Mission welcomes donors, volunteers and homeless people of all faiths – or not faith at all. No, it’s not a perfect organization, but it’s a responsible one that knows homelessness inside and out.
Remarkably, monetary donations to the Mission haven’t declined significantly if all since the 2008 recession. Maybe if Columbia’s Midlands Housing Alliance had donated to the Mission all the money it raised to build the apparently less-than-successful Transitions then the Mission could’ve fulfilled its goal of opening a center for women and children by now. They’re the fastest growing segment of the homeless population and stay hidden from view. But they’re out there. The homeless hanging out downtown are only the tip of the iceberg.
The Mission believes in giving a hand up, not a handout. Columbia, why don’t you let the Oliver Gospel Mission give you a badly needed hand up in dealing with your feral cats? The Mission doesn’t have all the answers to the problem, but they have more than you. The phone number is (803) 254-6470. And in the interest of full disclosure, I was employed in the administrative offices at the Mission briefly several years ago, so tell them Anna sent you.