Charleston’s Upper Meeting Street homeless encampment known as Tent City has been cleared, but the problem of homelessness in the Holy City hasn’t been solved.
Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg said local governments, homeless advocates and community members worked together to clear the encampment, helping some residents find housing and providing other assistance to the more than 100 people who once lived there.
And he doesn’t want the momentum to stop.
Tecklenburg said he soon will form a new commission to bring people together to identify long-term solutions to the problem of homelessness and try to prevent any more large encampments in the future.
Tecklenburg said he learned an important lesson from the Tent City experience: “To begin the battle to combat homelessness — and this might sound utterly simple — is to find the person a home.”
William Brown, who moved out of Tent City on Monday and into a temporary home in North Charleston, got a job with the temporary employment agency hired to clean up the encampment.
On Friday, Brown and others methodically picked up trash left behind under the Interstate 26 overpasses.
He said he fell into homelessness when he lost his job. He also got behind on child support payments and the legal consequences made it hard for him to land another job.
All he wants to do now is to land a job, find a permanent home, clean up his legal troubles and re-establish relationships with his family, he said. And he wished there were more resources available to help him and others get their lives back on track.
“If you can spend money on wars, you can do something here at home,” he said.
Anthony Haro, executive director of the Lowcountry Homeless Coalition, said there was an intense focus on Tent City and its residents, largely because it was in such a visible, downtown location. And that focus made some things clear.
First, he said, it showed that the area needs more resources for the homeless and more staff to work with them.
It’s hard to do a complete and accurate count of the number of homeless people in the region, he said, because there just aren’t many people available to do it.
And the Lowcountry needs more outreach workers for people who live outside, he said. Outreach workers learn who people are and what their needs are.
“I would love to say we have the name of every person who is homeless,” he said. “We don’t, but we’re getting there.”
And he echoed Tecklenburg’s call for more housing.
For people who have been homeless for awhile, we need “permanent supportive housing,” which includes affordable housing units and the services people need to hold onto them, he said.
That kind of housing and services aren’t cheap, he said, but neither are people who are chronically homeless. In a recent three-year period, Haro said, 100 chronically homeless people accrued $9.5 million in hospital charges.
For people who fall into homelessness, funds are needed to rapidly re-house them, Haro said.
Kim Williams, one of the leaders of the grassroots group Tent City of Charleston Initiative, which has 2,500 members on Facebook, said her group helped about 10 people find a place to live and furnishings for their new homes. And it’s continuing to work with other residents to help them find furniture and other items.
“Who would want to be stuck in four bare walls?” she said, adding that would only lead people back to life on the street.
She also said members of her group are going to continue to stay in touch with the people they’ve worked with to make sure they continue to stay in their new homes.
“Finding housing is great,” she said, “but unless all the dots connect, people are going to fail.”
Tent city grew partly because of scores of volunteers who supported it with donations of food, tents, clothes and other items, and officials want to continue to channel the community’s generosity.
Rob Dewey with the Coastal Crisis Chaplaincy said his group has created an online resource list for members of churches and other communities of faith that want to help people who are homeless. They can find referrals for housing, legal service and other necessary services at www.coastalcrisischaplain.org/transitional-support.
Also, they have printed cards for social workers and police to hand out to those who are homeless and in need.
State Rep. Wendell Gilliard, D-Charleston, has been pushing for help for the homeless on the local, state and national levels.
Homelessness is a statewide problem, Gilliard said, adding that Charleston County ranks just behind Greenville and Horry counties in terms of homeless population.
“We’ve always put the emphasis on the fact that this (Meeting Street encampment) is one of many tent cities. This one just got a lot of attention. We know that there are many more,” Gilliard said. “The solution is housing. ... You move homeless people and you don’t place them in housing, then they pop up elsewhere.”
Christina Elmore contributed to this report.