City officials begin moving homeless out of Tent City

Tent City resident Anthony Saunders packs his belongings Monday morning as he prepares to leave his tent for the Warming Shelter on Leeds Ave. (Brad Nettles/Staff) 4/4/16

The city of Charleston on Monday began dismantling the Upper Meeting Street homeless encampment known as Tent City, moving a group of its residents to the county’s warming shelter in North Charleston.

Last week, the city worked out a deal with Charleston County for temporary use of the facility on Leeds Avenue, which is in a vacant building at the work camp facility next to the Cannon Detention Center. The city will move the remaining residents, less than 40, by the end of the week. They can remain there up to 60 days while advocates for the homeless help them find permanent housing.

A few months ago, more than 100 people lived in the encampment.

Anthony Haro, executive director of the Lowcountry Coalition for the Homeless, said he expects about 30 people, mostly men, to come to the shelter.

The warming shelter has beds in cubicles, bathrooms, showers and laundry facilities. Women and men will be housed in separate wings with a security station between them. And all residents will get unlimited bus passes.

Haro said residents will be provided three meals a day, with the food coming from the jail.

A Tent City resident named Laurie, who didn’t want to give her last name, sat along Meeting Street on Monday waiting for the bus that would take her and other residents to the warming shelter. All of her belongings were piled on the grass next to her.

She thinks she will be able to move into an apartment in two or three weeks, she said, so she’s glad to have a place to stay until then.

Anthony Saunders stood by his tent Monday and said he was not happy with having to move. He’s worried about moving into a facility with so many other people.

“It’s nothing but a room full of chaos,” he said.

Tony Elder, deputy chief of the Charleston Police Department, said the Leeds Avenue facility will be a safe place governed by simple rules. The facility will be smoke-free, and alcohol and drugs aren’t permitted. Officers likely will use metal-detecting wands on people as they enter to make sure they aren’t carrying weapons.

Weapons that aren’t illegal, such as knives, must be turned in each night when a resident arrives at the shelter.

Residents won’t be allowed to enter after 10 p.m. unless they have jobs that keep them out later than that.

“They can come and go as they please until 10 p.m.,” Elder said.

Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen said legal and other services will be provided to residents. A lot of people aren’t aware they are eligible for services.

The Tent City situation — where several dozen tents cropped up in a visible part of town — has pushed local leaders to face the city’s homeless problem head on, Mullen said.

“We want to start looking for regional solutions,” he said. “This is just the tip of the iceberg.”

State Rep. Wendell Gilliard also visited Tent City on Monday. The Charleston Democrat has been pushing state and national leaders to give the city more money for affordable housing.

He also said the city and advocates for the homeless should change the way they deal with homeless people. Homeless shelters, such as the city’s One80 Place, are outdated, Gilliard said. People in such facilities, which are crowded and have a lot of rules, often make the homeless feel like they are in jail, he said.

“If we only adhere to those solutions, Tent Cities are the result,” he said.

Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter @dianeknich.