Supporters, detractors line up to opine about homeless plan - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina

Supporters, detractors line up to opine about homeless plan

Attorney Eric Bland meets with detractors of the city's homeless plan. Attorney Eric Bland meets with detractors of the city's homeless plan.
COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) -

As Columbia's controversial plan to move the homeless off city streets receives national attention from the New York Times, business and property owners continue to line up to support it.

One of the plan's supporters, attorney Eric Bland, butted heads with fellow attorney and activist Tom Turnipseed at Bland's law office on Bull Street and Calhoun Street -- which is what Bland calls "ground zero" for problems involving the homeless lately.

Bland was one of at least a dozen business owners or civic leaders gathering there to go on record in support of the city's new homeless "emergency response plan."

"We have employees. We have clients. We pay taxes, property taxes. Business taxes, business license fees. And we deserve the protection of our city," said Bland.

"What we want to do is enforce the existing laws. You don't have a right to loiter. You don't have a right to harass. And you certainly don't have a right to come on my property and use it as a bathroom."

Councilman Cameron Runyan, the chief architect of the plan, said he realizes the issue is "divisive", but doing nothing about it is not an option.

"We've left humanity to their own devices on the streets of this city and right now we are arresting homeless at the highest rates in many many years and perhaps in the history of this city because they have no choice but to go to the bathroom on the streets of this city. But to panhandle. But to sleep on the streets of this city. Because they have no relief," said Runyan. "The homeless themselves are desperate for relief."

The business and property owners insist the response plan, which includes upping the police presence in the downtown core and moving the homeless to the city's winter shelter, can be carried out without constitutional violations.

Turnipseed and some legal authorities disagree.

"Of course you can't say for sure yet because the thing is still up in the air," said Turnipseed. "Nobody knows yet what will finally happen. But they say what's been proposed is unconstitutional in several different ways."

Copyright 2013 WIS. All rights reserved.

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