Columbia, the capital city of South Carolina, will open the state’s first homeless court in January with the intention of helping the community’s impoverished and unfortunate find a path to stable housing. This is in stark contrast to the city’s previous stance on homelessness, having sparked controversy last year for criminalizing homelessness.
The court will act as a pilot program for future models which could potentially open throughout the state, according to South Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal, who authorized the project. Toal’s dream is that “one day the Legislature would deal with therapeutic courts all over the state.”
Operating out of a homeless center near Columbia’s business district, the court will be made available to individuals who believe that they’re ready to get their lives back in order. By working with a caseworker to help address and overcome the obstacles before them, individuals will be sentenced to treatment programs that will hopefully lead them toward accessing stable housing.
“It’s an opportunity on a case-by-case basis to meet that person where they are and try to get them the help that they need without forcing them through the formal judicial system,” Columbia city councilman Cameron Runyan said.
More than 1,600 homeless individuals were identified in Columbia and the surrounding area by the Midlands Area Consortium for the Homeless (MACH) back in 2011. Described as a “magnet for homeless people,” Columbia’s city council members voted unanimously last August to force homeless residents to either relocate, or get arrested. This decision was shortly rescinded following significant blowback.
“I will take responsibility for that getting into the public discourse,” Councilman Runyan had said after the city reconsidered its actions, according to the Free Times. “That is not the desire … We are not going to forcibly confine anyone.”
Read more about the story at The State.