Columbia concentrating on growing homeless problem

COLUMBIA (WACH)- The Columbia Police Department is facing a tough task.

According to a new report from the department, homeless people have committed 500 crimes in the last six months; including an incident less than two weeks ago, when Gregg Hiers was arrested after a standoff at a Five Points drug store.

The crimes have taken up more than 300 hours of police officers time; something Chief Scott said must change.

"Columbia is a very giving community. There are a lot of different services out there. The root nature of our solution is going to be coordination, coordination of services."

Scott said many of the crimes are less serious, like public urination or defecation.

But homeless residents like David Edelman and Terry Jones say only a few places in the city allow them to come inside and use the restroom; like the Richland County Public Library. At night, they have nowhere else to go.

"We've got businesses locking porter potties at night. Where are we supposed to go to the bathroom?", said Edelman.

Jones added "If they can afford just two porter john's and have them at certain destinations. We are human too, we're not animals."

They say the city's two shelters, Transitions and Oliver Gospel Mission have strict requirements to stay there; and the beds fill up fast. Some of the homeless add that they get tickets for simple things like taking a nap for a few minutes near businesses. The tickets make it even tougher for them to find a job.

"The more tickets you get, the higher the fines you have. Then you've got to worry about going to jail", said Edelman.

"Some people do stuff wrong continuously, but some people try to get back into the community as taxpayers", said Jones.

Chief Scott said he understands, but it does not justify breaking the law.

"Anybody can be homeless tomorrow. But you still have to respect the law and people's private property. You cannot violate those laws."

Scott plans on meeting several more times with city officials to find a solution towards what he calls a growing problem. He hopes they can reach a mutual solution.