Just hours after officials met Friday to discuss the regional homeless issue, a second homeless woman's body was discovered in downtown Charleston.
Janice Case, 53, was found dead about 2:30 p.m. at 97 Nassau St. on the East Side, authorities said. She was naked, lying face up in the backyard of the abandoned house, several witnesses said.
James Joseph Nehiley, 59, also homeless, was charged with murder in her slaying, said Charles Francis, police public information officer.
Police said Case's death is not linked to that of a 51-year-old homeless woman found Wednesday in Marion Square. Investigator do not suspect foul play in Anita Tedder's death.
Several East Side residents on Friday saw Case's body behind a little yellow house on Nassau Street and recognized Case, a homeless woman who frequented the yard and the nearby intersection at Line Street. She spent her days hanging out there and drinking alcohol with friends, they said.
"I'm not surprised that she is dead, with the kind of lifestyle she lived," Kit Thrash said. "She was always very intoxicated and rambling to herself. She was always asking for nickels and quarters."
C.D. Walker had seen Case many times walking in the area on her crutches. Walker said he wished he hadn't seen her body.
"It looked like she got beaten and dragged back there," he said.
He and other neighbors said Case's face was badly bruised and swollen, and one arm was outstretched above her head and the other was tucked unnaturally at her side. A single crutch lay beside her, they said.
Charleston County Deputy Coroner Bobbi Jo O'Neal said authorities could know more about how she died after an autopsy scheduled for today.
The East Side for decades has been plagued by crime, and the intersection of Nassau and Line streets long has been associated with drug traffic and deadly shootings. Two homeless shelters are within blocks, and some of that criminal activity is being perpetrated not by East Side residents but by the outsiders coming into the neighborhood, said Arthur Maybank, secretary of the East Side Community Development Corp.
"There's a lot of good people in the neighborhood," he said. "We get stuck with a dead body, and a bad name."
Crisis Ministries homeless shelter estimates that as many as 3,000 homeless people live in downtown Charleston. Tim LaRoche is one of them.
LaRoche eats out of trash cans, spends his nights in an abandoned building and then, like many other homeless during the day, treats Marion Square and the public library like his living room.
Sometimes he likes to sit on a park bench, kick off his shoes and take a nap, which he says is not unlike the dozens of college students and tourists who lay out on the crisp green grass. The 33-year-old former carpenter doesn't understand why local police single him out by telling him to move on. "It's a public park," he said.
LaRoche and others said they spend the day at the park and other tourists areas because there's few opportunities for them and because they consider it safer than surrounding neighborhoods.
"Ain't nobody trying to rob you out here," said James Jamison, a former truck driver who's been on the streets since April.
While some people would prefer to see less of the homeless, local leaders said rising unemployment numbers and home foreclosures, together with limited government resources, likely will add to the estimated 5,000 tri-county residents a year who find themselves on the street.
State Rep. Wendell Gilliard called local outreach coordinators and ministers together Friday to gauge and address how prepared they are to meet the growing needs. "Are we providing too little for the onslaught brought on by the recession?" he said.
Stacey Denaux, executive director of Crisis Ministries, said they haven't seen anything yet to indicate a massive increase in the need for shelter, but they're prepared in case conditions, such as extreme temperatures, bring more people to their door. The Meeting Street shelter holds 84 men in the men's dorm and 20 women and children in their family dorm, though that number will increase to 45 after renovations are finished.
Men who don't have medical or mental health needs have to leave at 7 a.m. every day because the men's dorm doubles as the soup kitchen. Many go to work or look for jobs or participate in programs to help them stay sober, Denaux said. Clients must be sober to use the shelter.
But the programs don't usually occupy a person's entire day and many go to public places where they find others, such as LaRoche and Jamison, who consider the rules and confines of the shelter too restrictive.
Jamison said there aren't enough jobs to go around right now for people with criminal histories or no addresses. He and a friend sleep at a parking garage at night and then spend the day either at the park or at the library.
"I'm not an alcoholic. I'm not a drug user," he said. "I just want to live."
LaRoche said he doesn't panhandle, but if he finds a lost iPod on the sidewalk he'll probably hock it for a little cash. A college student's discarded keg is traded in for an easy $5. Anything to make a buck in a city that he says doesn't provide him opportunities to clean up and get a job.
LaRoche was a carpenter for 14 years, making $16 an hour. He said alcohol led him to the streets of Charleston about a year ago. He lost his job and his beloved Harley-Davidson. He got clean for a little while, enrolled in a local technical college but admits blowing his first college loan on "alcohol, prostitutes, hotel rooms and spent a little bit on gas for my motorcycle."
He's since put things in perspective, he said, and is certain he can stay dry if someone gives him a chance.
"I'm going to get on a bus to Columbia," he said. "I hear there are more opportunities for homeless. They provide laundry, clothes and help you get a job."
But Becky VanWie, associate director for the Lowcountry Continuum of Care, said conditions in Columbia probably aren't any better as the effects of the recession grips the entire state.
VanWie said help is available via the $11 million in federal stimulus money that is being made available to the state to prevent people from becoming homeless and help those who lost their homes to quickly find new housing. Charleston County is eligible to receive $831,000 of that money.
Gilliard, who noted that the $11 million is not under control of the governor, said it will help but more needs to be done.
"Now we have to prepare ourselves. It's almost like the perfect storm."