COLUMBIA, S.C. Voices in support of Columbia's impending crackdown on homeless rallied Monday, saying the plan is legal and is being distorted by its critics.
Even as a news conference was to being at a Calhoun Street law firm, a small band of homeless activists wearing H on their chests showed up to confront backers of a plan endorsed at least in part by Columbia City Council.
"We need to support this, said attorney Eric Bland, who organized the event that drew some 20 lawyers, business people and neighbors to the law firm.
"There's been 20 years of rhetoric ... and we're not making any progress," said Bland, who caps his firm's location Ground Zero for the city's homeless population.
The plan was adopted unanimously at an Aug. 13 City Council meeting. But some on council are now disputing which elements of the proposal by Councilman Cameron Runyan were adopted in a vote that occurred about 2 a.m.
The group supporting the plan, which converts the city's winter shelter into an around-the-clock operation for about six months, agreed it can withstand a legal challenge.
"Absolutely. It will be upheld," said attorney Dick Harpootlian, whose office is in the affected area.
Mayor Steve Benjamin, who supports the plan, said skepticism about the plan is drowning out that it seeks to help the homeless.
"What is being lost is that we're creating a place where people can will actually have a place to sleep ... a place to eat ... a place with air-conditioning."
Benjamin stopped short of endorsing a plan provision that would set up a city hot line to report homeless people wandering in the city center.
But he called the assignment of more police patrols to the area a the Times Square approach.
The tenseness of the homelessness debate was apparent Monday as about 10 homeless advocates arrived at Bland's firm sporting H imprinted over burlap badges.
Bland asked them to leave his property and protest on the sidewalk. One woman recorded Bland asking them to leave and peppered him with questions.
The standoff grew heated enough that a police officer was called by Runyan. The officer stood on a staircase that leads from the Calhoun Street sidewalk into the law firm at Calhoun and Bull streets.
The plan supporters argue that their rights to use their property as they please is being overrun by homeless people.
"The homeless have a constitutional right to be on the street," Bland said. "But they don't have a constitutional right to live on the street."
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