Pastor: Recent tragedy at Finlay Park shows homelessness issues persist

Updated: Oct. 20, 2017 at 7:46 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - It's no secret. Homelessness at Finlay Park is something the City of Columbia has grappled with for years. A number of homeless people seek shelter at the park each day.

The Columbia Police Department says, back in September, 81-year-old John Bagley was punched by 42-year-old Corey Todd while feeding homeless people there, and it believes that act of violence eventually caused Bagley's death. An incident report says Todd was attempting to get a refund of 50-cents from the offering plate before the attack.

Friday, the department said what happened was an isolated incident. CPD also said it patrols there day and night. However, a couple local homeless experts – who pointed out that the vast majority of homeless people are kind-hearted, non-violent people – said security is an issue at the park.

Reverend Jimmy Jones didn't know Bagley, but both had the same passion.

"We go to help those who cannot help themselves for the chance to not only help another person have a better life, but sometimes, a high price in our own lives," said Jones. "To have been abused, there is no grace for that at all."

All week, the news has been on Jones' mind. He's the founder of Christ Central Ministries, a faith-based group with a big emphasis on solving homelessness. Jones feels the tragedy at Finlay Park could affect volunteerism on the fringes.

Oliver Gospel Mission's CEO, Wayne Fields, has similar thoughts.

"I don't think volunteerism here at the mission will be, because it's a controlled area," he said. "As soon as you go outside of that to a Finlay Park or elsewhere, it's not a managed situation. You know, it's not managed by people who do this kind of work all the time."

Fields said security at Finlay Park is an issue and encouraged anyone volunteering there to temper compassion with wisdom and common sense. Jones agreed. He doesn't believe Finlay Park is the best arena to regularly feed the homeless.

"It was never designed for that," Jones said. "It's not built for that. The protection is not there."

It's an issue the city has debated before. But Jones said the recent tragedy at Finlay Park is evidence that it's an issue still unsolved.

"You will always have incidents if we don't deal with what's causing the poverty, what's exacerbating, and what's making it worse," he said.

Meanwhile, Food Not Bombs, which feeds homeless people in Finlay Park each week, said it sees no reason not to feed hungry people in a public place such as the park.

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