Last month, the Columbia City Council began requiring permits and fees for groups of 25 or more to use public parks. One report said this was done to finance repairs; another said it was aimed at spontaneous, large parties that left behind messes. For organizations with large budgets, fees are probably not an issue.
But for many small charitable organizations and ministries that strive to serve the disadvantaged population, the new ordinance could spell disaster. Such organizations rely upon the generosity of volunteers and donors, and for them, these fees are exorbitant and unreasonable.
I have served for several years as a volunteer with Keepin’ It Real Ministries ( www.keepinitrealministriessc.blogspot.com), which exists to serve the homeless of Columbia. It has a track record, through God’s power, of helping people transition off of the street. Everything this ministry does is supported through donations. There are no paid employees, only volunteers. For nearly nine years, Keepin’ It Real has been leading a worship service in Finlay Park every Sunday, where volunteers provide a meal and clothing. Even if the non-refundable deposit of $350 plus a $75-per-hour fee were affordable, it seems unconscionable for that money to go to the city rather than assisting the homeless people we are trying to serve. The city should be supporting the efforts of such ministries, not hindering them.
The causes of homelessness are many and complicated, with no easy answers. Society has its work cut out for it to come up with effective solutions. Maybe individual counties need to be required to take care of their own. Who knows? ThinkProgress.org believes the permits are a tactic to move the homeless elsewhere.
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As a Christian, I would argue that God is the one with the answers, and he has charged us with the job of helping everyone we can. We need to consider the needs of each individual as we seek to help. The permits make that job that much more difficult.
I hope those who agree with me and live in the city will contact City Council and the mayor’s office to get this ordinance changed for non-profits. The right thing to do is to support those who are trying to make a difference, one person at a time.