Frigid nights of the sort that we have been experiencing this week beg the question of whether Columbia's homeless have proper shelter.
Fortunately, Columbia's Winter Homeless Shelter, with a little more than 200 beds, is open. But while we suspect the shelter will function better than it ever has before, now that it is operated by The Cooperative Ministry and the USC School of Medicine, it alone isn't enough to meet the needs of the city's homeless. There are an estimated 900 homeless people in Richland County - and that estimate is quite likely low.
While the city and others make gallant efforts to ensure people at least have some place to go to keep warm, the fact is that simply trying to keep homeless people from freezing to death during winter months isn't enough. The Oliver Gospel Mission, which focuses on turning around lives, does what it does well, but its reach is limited; the same can be said for other shelters, programs and advocates who work tirelessly to help the homeless. The bottom line is we aren't doing enough.
To have even a decent shot at reducing the number of homeless people in the Midlands, governments, committed advocates and others must pool their resources and devise a comprehensive approach to homelessness that helps people get on their feet and live better lives - year round. The need is real, as illustrated by the latest count of the homeless in the 14-county area that includes Richland and Lexington counties.
The 2009 count, released in November, found 1,368 homeless people in the counties of Aiken, Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Calhoun, Chester, Fairfield, Kershaw, Lancaster, Lexington, Newberry, Orangeburg, Richland and York. Of that number, 1,006 were from Richland and Lexington counties, with the lion's share in Richland.
To read the complete editorial, visit The State (Columbia, S.C.).