Downtown neighborhoods face new neighbors
Columbia's Coalition of Downtown Neighborhoods held an outdoor press conference Monday morning, October 27 at 10:30 on the grounds of Roy Lynch Park in the Elmwood Park neighborhood. The issue at hand was the proposed expanded homeless shelter planned for the Salvation Army site, 2025 Main Street, at the corner of Elmwood Avenue and Main Street. The vast majority of the people present expressed opposition to the Elmwood/ Main site for the homeless shelter because the vast majority of the people present lived within a few blocks of the Elmwood/ Main site.
Besides living in tight proximity to the proposed shelter site, possibly soon to be home to 260 homeless people, Columbia's Coalition of Downtown Neighborhoods showed up in force in direct response to a recent editorial in The State by Warren Bolton who said, in part: "There's no bigger sign of this community's failure to embrace its responsibility to serve the least of these (homeless) than the push to block the Midlands Housing Alliance's plan to open a comprehensive homeless center at the Salvation Army site on Main Street."
Again, this was written by Warren Bolton, whose parent company, free of city taxes and beyond city boundaries near Williams-Brice Stadium, helped in no way with the commercially valid proposal of several years ago to locate a comprehensive homeless shelter down the street, also near Williams- Brice Stadium. The Williams- Brice location was sponsored by local business leaders, something akin to the Midlands Housing Alliance (MHA), making the deal eminently affordable for the city. Still, rank and file public support was not there.
The next year, a blue- ribbon committee of civic leaders embraced a homeless shelter site soundly recommended by just about everyone in town up to date on the issue. Nearby was a temporary winter shelter for the homeless funded by Coach Lou Holtz and his wife Beth. The surrounding neighborhood residents were understandably upset and said so. Also, the proposed homeless shelter site was apparently too near the law offices of council member E.W. Cromartie and his occasional clients, Allen University and Benedict College. City council voted down the site.
Another site, an alternative to the corner of Elmwood and Main, was too near the Canalside development, where the Charleston-based Beach Co. had bought the CCI property from the city. As it was selling the CCI land for high- end residential real estate speculation, of course, the city never said it was interested in a nearby site for its comprehensive homeless shelter. The city did, though, put its temporary winter shelter near Canalside with the assurance of a short- term stay until the comprehensive center could be sited and built elsewhere.
The MHA took serious interest in the near- Canalside site and its winter shelter. The available area was big enough to also absorb the city's comprehensive homeless shelter, the Midlands Housing Alliance thought. The Beach Co. thought otherwise and said so.
With its focus back on the Salvation Army site, the MHA organized a trip to Miami to study its homeless facilities, particularly the main flagship site for the Miami- based Community Partnership for Homeless (CPH).
Mary Jo Roue, vice president of the Elmwood Park Neighborhood Association, shared her concerns with what the Columbia visitors saw in Miami and what will likely happen in Columbia:
"Since its inception in 1993, the Miami model, Community Partnership for Homeless, or CPH, has spent over $300,000,000 on their program… and there is still a homeless problem on the streets of Miami. The Miami model serves 350 homeless individuals who have committed to changing their lives in this comprehensive model through rehabilitation and education. The (Columbia) MHA will serve approximately 260 homeless individuals. The total annual spending budget for the Miami program is $11.5 million dollars and rising. We suspect MHA will need at least $8.5 million per year to operate their facility in Columbia."
Roue worries where the Columbia money is coming from. About two- thirds of the Miami CPH budget, $7.5 million of the total $11.5 million, comes from a hospitality tax. Columbia's hospitality tax is being eyed by both the city and Richland County as a means to help fund the region's bus system, not its homeless housing and services.
Columbia's Cathy Novinger, as the new chair of the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce, is spearheading the efforts behind the MHA and its site- seeking proposed comprehensive homeless center. Novinger retired from SCANA as the senior vice president directly responsible for what is now Columbia's bus system.