Plague or Cottage Industry Part 2 Sheltering the homeless!

I’ve already covered the feeding of the needy and homeless in the last installment.  This installment covers the sheltering of the same.  Here, it may get a bit politically charged.  The reason I see this is because it involves not only Oliver Gospel Mission, Transitions Center,but the city of Columbia politicians as well.

Let me start with what I’ve had experience with first hand starting with the City’s winter shelter.  I’ve only stayed there once when it was at the old fire station closer to downtown.  It in a word was horrible.  They used a trailer portable toilet and shower (two of each) connected to the sewage system via a 4″ hose.  There were over 100 of us crammed into the space of a 20’X40′ area.  The roof leaked and people were getting wet, sick, and health standards were abominable to say the least.  There wasn’t much more than a large space heater in the place to heat the building.  This of course has since changed.  This was the first time I was homeless.

Currently they have a different location and building.  The old shelter has been condemned.  I’ve not gone down to the new shelter, however I’ve heard tales from friends.  Those that told me are people I’ve known on the street for a couple of years now.  The new building is better (at least it doesn’t have a leaky roof).  As to over crowding, well it’s dorm style bunks.  My guess its the same.  However, they now have overflow shelter space (word is high school gymnasiums are being used).

Thankfully, it’s not been that cold this year and I have no need for this place.  Even if I had needed to go, I’d rather be outside than be crowded in with a bunch of people who DON’T want to go to sleep when the lights go out or are half drunk or drugged up or both in the later two cases.  Yes, there is security there.  However, I’ve heard of possessions what few some have, have been stolen.  There has been fights in this place where the police has been called in.  The last thing I want is to have some fool drunk or drug addict push what little patience I have left.  I know I’d go to jail if that happened.  Thus my unwillingness to go here not to mention I too have had some of my meager belongings stolen or vandalized.

The second option is Oliver Gospel Mission.  Again, I’ve no need nor want to go to this place either even if it got seriously nasty outside.  Here is the following reasons for this.  One, the building is a death trap.  The city fire marshal whom I assume is being bribed to keep the place open should have long ago condemned it as a major fire hazard.  Staff there has continually harped about smoking in the place and people have been banned from the place for ignoring that fact.  To quote a staff member there, “This place would go up inside of 10 minutes if it caught fire.”  They mean a total loss of contents and possibly lives.  Two, they have a drug and alcohol treatment program there.  You ask why would I fear this?  I don’t.  It’s the people in the program.  They have been found to violate the rules (some have been kept on in some cases stating it was but a minor infraction).  Some of these people have been known to steal from the transients (homeless).  Three, their security there is sadly lacking as well.  Yes, they have an armed security guard there from 4pm till 9pm but afterward their staff or the “program” people man the front desk.  Not safe by no means.  They are also limited to roughly 56 beds year round.  This doesn’t count them opening up their day room for an additional 33 people they put on gym mats when temperatures get below 40 degrees farenheit.  These people are packed in like sardines there.  Worse so at meal time.

This place isn’t as bad as it seems compared to the city winter shelter which is only open from November 1st til April 1st.  They do have a full time staff.  Their staff is generally better than their management.  At least they are more concerned for the homeless than management would be even though some of their management have worked with the transients themselves and were at one time rehabilitated by the same place.  This place also offers one other program for those upwardly mobile (seeking a job or have a job).  They provide beds and food for these people in what they call the “Hand Up” program.  In my last post I talked about food so I won’t mention it here.  However, out of the 56 beds Oliver Gospel Mission has for the homeless, they reserve a number of them for people in this program thus cutting the number of available beds down again (the rehabilitation program people live in a different part of the building and have their own beds as well).  To say getting a bed in there is an understatement.  Especially in the summer.  Of course their “Hand Up” program isn’t without it’s flaws.  They require those people to pay 10% of all wages to the mission in the form of a donation to help support the mission.  I’ll talk more on this later when I discuss corruption.

Last but not least is the Transitions Center.  Newly built it houses roughly 270 people.  Now here’s where the trouble starts.  Only 70 beds are up for grabs by the transient population.  Seventy of those beds are reserved for mental patients in need (they don’t have nowhere else to go).  And 70 of those beds are reserved for those transitioning from off the streets to the job force (think Oliver Gospel Mission’s Hand Up program without the payments).  This place has been open about six months now and they do have heavy security thanks to the local residents in the neighborhood complaining to city hall about it being there.  A friend of mine stayed there not even 3 weeks as a transient.  He said to me that they’d had the police down there no less than 4 times in one day once.  This doesn’t even count the number of people they’ve booted out (transients  that got into altercations with the mental health patients) for violation of rules including fighting.  Where’s the security in this for the average person seeking shelter on the street?  Granted I’m speaking in the third person here and have not had personal experience with the place or it’s staff or security there.  However, the rumor/fact mill on the streets is faster sometimes than the speed of light.  I won’t go into this place either due to what has been heard from myself.  To me, mentally unstable are like the drunks and the drug addicts.  They’d push my patience (what little I currently have) to the end and again, I’d end up in jail.

So where does this leave me?  Sleeping where and when I can on the streets.  I have limited number of friends out here and I refuse to put them under any pressure to help me when the economy is rough enough on them that have homes and jobs.  I have a sleeping bag and I can find shelter from the elements when necessary.  However! If caught using the sleeping bag anywhere in the city of Columbia, I will be ticketed for violation of the “Domestic camping” ordinance.  This ordinance states in essence, “Camp shall mean residing in or using a public street, sidewalk, or park for private living accommodations, such as erecting tents or other temporary structures or objects providing shelter; sleeping in a single place for any substantial prolonged period of time; regularly cooking or preparing meals; or other similar activities. ”  It is broadly defined and overused.  Not only that it will be abused and already has been abused by local law enforcement.  Would law enforcement do this normally when there are bigger fish to fry.  Doubtful.  This ordinance was passed by city council to get the homeless out in the street out of the city itself even though they are benefited by the homeless in tax write-offs (feeding, clothing, and sheltering them when they do) as well as cheap labor (labor pools abound down here where people are only paid minimum wage for jobs that would otherwise be well paid).  The city has also got an ordinance against sleeping in city parks.  It’s unenforceable due to the city not wanting to spend the money to post the regulation at any of their parks irregardless that they enforce it.  You can look both these up at: http://www.municode.com/Library.

This is but the second nightmare the homeless face in this city.  The horror story doesn’t end here.  This is but one city in the entire country.  I’d hate to see what it’s like in other cities.  I’ve heard many a story from people I’ve met on the streets.  Some believable, others not so.  I feel fortunate to have survived without being like the many who have jumped to their death at the Foxcon plant in China.  Or for that matter being put in prison where I know I’d die.  Onward and upward.  Next post in a few days where I’ll cover the political angle of this all.

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