Homeless NIMBY: services, area development clash/Columbia SC FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Mon, 25 May 1998 21:47:35 -0700 (PDT)

FWD  The State [Columbia, SC] - Monday, May 25, 1998



     Bt Dawn Hinshaw - Staff Writer

Myrtle Gordon doesn't want a homeless shelter anywhere near her neighborhood.

"The minute the words 'Oliver Gospel Mission' come up in this community,
people's hair stands on end," said Gordon, who lives off Barhamville Road
in Columbia.

For the past two years, downtown merchants have been promoting the idea of
moving the century-old mission from the corner of Assembly and Taylor
streets, near the main branch of the Richland County library.

Last month, though, the move was knocked off a list of projects the city
hoped to pay for with property taxes collected in the Congaree Vista.

So city officials are regrouping about how to handle moving the mission.

Mayor Bob Coble said it's the location, not the money, that's an obstacle
for the Oliver Gospel Mission.

Last week, the City Council met briefly in closed session to talk about the
possibility of buying land for the mission. Coble would not disclose the

Private benefactors have promised to help pay for the move, which many view
as critical to the redevelopment of downtown.

Three potential locations -- each on the state Department of Mental
Health's 300-acre campus off Bull Street -- have been tossed around and
ruled out. In each case, residents objected.

"We don't want it in our area for the same reason they don't want it
downtown," where mission clients are known for panhandling and loitering on
the sidewalk, Gordon said.

Bobby Blanton, chairman of the Oliver Gospel Mission board, said he
understands the neighborhood's apprehensions. Still, "It's not going to be
the same thing. It's going to be entirely different."

The reason clients hang out on the street now is the mission is too crowded
to accommodate everyone who needs its services, he said. "There's no reason
for anybody to be standing around outside this new facility."

John Hutto, a spokesman for the Department of Mental Health, said all three
sites on the vast Columbia campus have been ruled out. "We're not in the
middle of it anymore."

But Coble, who has been meeting with influential community leaders in
recent weeks, hoping to make the project fly, said he's committed to seeing
the mission move -- and improve.

Coble said he hasn't given up on a site along Calhoun Street, not far from
Harden Street.

"Everybody involved with it's going to become frustrated," Coble said. "But
we have to keep working on it until we reach a consensus as a community
that we need better homeless services."


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