Salvation Army says homeless center not moving either way

We just remade tomorrow’s op-ed page to share with our readers a piece that I think everyone should have the chance to read (folks who live in the Elmwood area will find it of particular interest), even though it has already been overtaken by events, and could be more so by the time the paper hits your doorstep Thursday morning.

So it is that I go ahead and give it to you here and now. An explanation: We got this piece today, when Salvation Army board chief Michael Beal shared with us the letter he had sent to Columbia City Council. He wrote it before the Midlands Housing Alliance voted NOT to change its plans and move to a site being pushed by some members of the city council. That happened Wednesday afternoon.

What I don’t know at this writing is what the city council will do in light of a) this letter, which tells them that the homeless services that residential neighbor want well away from them isn’t going to move whatever the Alliance does, and b) the vote by the Alliance this afternoon NOT to change its plans.

I’ve heard one thing about the city’s plans: That it plans to discuss the issue behind closed doors tonight. Here’s hoping that the city’s leaders think better of that and deal with this in the open. For my part I’ll find out when I read the paper in the morning; tonight I’ll be watching the presidential debate (assuming I get out of here by that time tonight). When I’m going to finish reading that blasted book so I can write the column that will be the counterpart to the "Barack Like Me" column, I don’t know. But that’s not your problem, is it?

Anyway, here’s the piece from Mr. Beal, adapted from the letter he sent the council:

Killing homeless center won’t move homeless

Guest Columnist
On Wednesday, I sent a letter to Mayor Bob Coble and City Council on behalf of the Columbia Salvation Army Advisory Board to disabuse them of the idea that the homeless are leaving our site at 2025 Main St. If the Midlands Homeless Alliance doesn’t serve them at our current headquarters, we will continue to do so.
    I share the substance of it here.
    The Salvation Army has a 100-year history of caring for the homeless in Columbia. We believe the Homeless Alliance’s plan to build a residential homeless transition center at 2025 Main St. complements out mission.
    The selection of an appropriate location is loaded with emotion. No one wants a homeless facility in their backyard. And yet it must be somewhere.
    City Council, the Homeless Alliance and the Salvation Army all must make decisions that further their missions. Council will have to determine which homeowners to appease and which to upset (Elmwood Park and Cottontown vs. CanalSide) as well as whether to help facilitate a well-financed and well-considered solution to a problem for the greater good.
Council also has a duty to be a good steward of the taxpayers’ money. From an economic standpoint, the Homeless Alliance proposal is clearly the best option.
    The alliance will have to gauge the feasibility of abandoning the Salvation Army site for a city-sponsored alternative, which raises many questions and jeopardizes some of its financing.
    The Salvation Army’s goal is to sell the property to the alliance and become a service provider at the new transition center. To be very clear: If lawsuits or red tape kill the pending sale, we will renovate our facility and continue our residential care mission at 2025 Main St.
    We are informed that much of the financial support garnered by the Homeless Alliance will be lost if the transition center is not built on Main Street. If that occurs, we expect those who had agreed to support the alliance to support us instead, so we can continue to provide shelter and other services.
    If the new residential facility is built somewhere else, that would undoubtedly influence us, but it would not end utilization of the property for homeless services, including programs with substantial residential components.
    This is not an either-or issue. The current zoning permits the Salvation Army to use the property for up to 261 residential beds, with full support services. Infinitely. We continue to serve the homeless today even though much of our funding has been diverted to the transition center. If the Homeless Alliance contract is not closed, we will continue to own the property and will continue our mission and ministry of helping the homeless at 2025 Main St. for another 100 years, or until there are no more homeless people who need our assistance.
    If the Homeless Alliance isn’t able to build its state-of-the-art center, it will further Columbia’s reputation as a dysfunctional city where critical issues are interminably debated, not resolved.
    While we debate and litigate, little is being done to actually solve the problems of homelessness in Columbia. Homeless people (who are people) continue to sleep on the streets and urinate in citizens’ yards. Another winter will come and go in Columbia, and no answers will be provided.
    The Miami shelter, which many members of council and this community visited, has a success rate in excess of 60 percent. If the Midlands Homeless Alliance’s plans are approved and we achieve a success rate close to 60 percent, it will not take long to see a noticeable improvement in downtown Columbia. In addition, the lives of the formerly homeless will be changed forever: They will become employed, tax-paying citizens. If it happened in Miami, it can happen here.
    This is Columbia’s last and best chance to properly address homelessness.
    The alliance’s project has incredible support in the community. Hundreds showed up at the announcement at the Salvation Army this summer. Churches have pledged hundreds of thousands of dollars, and business and individuals have pledged $5 million to match the Knight Foundation’s incredible gift. The Midlands Business Leadership Group, Knight Foundation, United Way, Central Carolina Community Foundation and the faith-based community have come together in an unprecedented fashion on this singular issue to provide something that Columbia has been lacking for many years — leadership.
    We hope that council will be part of the solution and help Columbia take the first step toward becoming the great city we all believe it can become.

Mr. Beal chairs the Columbia Salvation Army Advisory Board.

6 thoughts on “Salvation Army says homeless center not moving either way

  1. Snead

    Man, I can’t even keep up with this stuff fast enough to put together a decent post.
    Thanks for the update. Please keep following this situation.

  2. Bill C.

    I still say it’d be cheaper to go online to and buy them a one-way ticket to Hawaii. Columbia needs to make it miserable for these chronic homeless bums who have nothing better to do than hang out at the libraries and parks. There is a clear line between those who are homeless and are willing to work and those who are homeless and are not willing to work. Right there we could eliminate 75% of Columbia’s homeless by shipping the ones who do not want to work out of town.

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