Columbia, SC, government officials are requiring that the city’s winter shelter, which will house 240 homeless people over the next few months, performs background checks on the homeless individuals that hope to stay there.
“Those who stay at the shelter must register and provide identification, which will be verified. That information is shared with police, who then may choose to run warrant checks to see if tenants are wanted on criminal charges”, according to The Slate.
Homeless advocates have been arguing with city officials that IDs and background checks keep people away from the shelter, possibly putting them back out into the cold, but the city has insisted on the criminal checks remaining part of the deal. “Requiring … checks on specific populations to the exclusion of others violates civil liberties,” The Midlands Area Consortium for the Homeless has said. The consortium compared shelter checks to requiring screenings to enter a public building.
Christ Central – the religious organization that will lead the program - will hire on-site private security for the shelter, but its volunteers will not seek to enforce warrant checks, said City Councilman Cameron Runyan, who has become council’s point person on homelessness. “Last year, one of the problems they had down there was that security was in charge, not the staff,” Runyan said. “It was a blunt sword. That created all sorts of chaos.”
Christ Central is experienced in helping the homeless. It operates 89 programs at 38 locations across South Carolina – 10 of which are in metropolitan Columbia. The organization has a 14,000-person core of volunteers, many of whom are doctors, lawyers and other professionals.
Performing background checks on the homeless isn’t a new idea, having been discussed in Montana only last year, and the controversy then was the same as it is now. What do you think – would you mind having a homeless shelter in your neighborhood this winter, knowing that none of those staying there had faced a background check?