New law could make sitting on some downtown Charleston sidewalks illegal

CHARLESTON COUNTY, SC (WCSC) - For about three years, Brian Bonner has called the sidewalk at the intersection of King Street and Wentworth Street his home.

"This is what I do every day pretty much," Bonner said. "Sit and hold a sign and try to make money to get a room or get a shower, things I need, you know?"

But a new law being considered for the City of Charleston would make it illegal for Bonner to sit or lay down on that sidewalk.

"Yeah, that wouldn't work out. If it comes to that, I'll have to figure out something."

The City of Charleston's Public Safety Committee decided on Monday to move forward with a new law that would fine people for sitting or lying down on a few major sidewalks downtown.

The new law would affect King Street, between Line Street and Broad Street, and North and South Market Streets, between King and East Bay Streets.

It would fine people $25 if they were found sitting or lying down on those areas. If they were caught more than once, that fee would rise to $50.

Some homeless people, like Bonner, said they think the law is targeting them.

"I understand, you know, I just need some help to get off the streets basically is what it amounts to," Bonner said.

A lot of Charleston locals say this kind of fine would be a huge help to the city.

"I think we need to get the homeless off the street," Mount Pleasant resident Garry Gessel said. "It looks bad for the city. It gives it a bad appearance and a bad name."

But others doubt the new law would be effective.

"These guys have cups of change, so I don't know if they're going to have $25 worth of change sitting around," Charleston resident Preston Murphy said.

Murphy and a few others downtown say they see this new law as a punishment. Instead, they want to see the city helping the homeless.

"If they don't want us sitting out here on the sidewalks and panhandling and asking for money, then they need to give us jobs," Jeremiah O'Brien, who has been homeless for several years, said.

But Bonner said he can see that help just coming from the people of Charleston.

"It's a hard situation, you know, and the only way that I think it can be fixed is for people to help one another," Bonner said.

The ordinance also calls for the city to maintain an outreach plan, which would outline what the city has to do to help people who are chronically found sitting or lying down on public sidewalks.

It also allows for exceptions to the law, like using the sidewalk to sit or lie down for a medical emergency.

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