First phase of Tent City shutdown underway

Robert Hilton waits for Family Services workers to arrive for his move to an apartment Friday morning from the tent city under the Ravenel Bridge, as Charleston Police Lt. Charles Hawkins calls an officer to give Hilton a ride.

The dismantling of Charleston’s homeless encampment — the so-called Tent City near Interstate 26 and the Ravenel Bridge — began Friday morning.

Several tents and a huge pile of trash under the bridge ramps on the east side of Meeting Street were cleared out. The cleanup came a day after city leaders and advocates for the area’s homeless announced a 10-point plan for closing down the encampment, which had been growing on the city’s upper peninsula for about a year.

Another spot at Meeting and Lee streets, where about eight people now live, will be cleared Monday and Tuesday. The biggest cluster — about 100 people on the west side of Meeting Street — will be cleared by late April, officials said.

Robert Hilton, 47, a disabled former dump-truck driver, was one of the people who moved out Friday. He had lived in Tent City since April. He moved to Charleston after his home in Orlando, Fla., caught fire. He had hoped to live with relatives, but that didn’t work out and he ended up in a tent.

Friday morning, he was moved to an apartment in West Ashley. The nonprofit Family Services paid the rent and hauled his belongings there. A Charleston police officer gave him a ride so he wouldn’t have to wait for a taxi.

The other three residents who had been living under the bridge there were nowhere to be seen. They had left their tents and donated belongings behind.

Jack O’Toole, spokesman for the city of Charleston, said he couldn’t get information Friday on where those three residents went.

But, he said, after Thursday’s announcement that Tent City would be dismantled, eight people came into One80 Place, the city’s homeless shelter just a block away on Walnut Street. About eight others from the encampment had arrived there the night before.

Residents and officials have agreed that after residents leave the encampment, everything left behind, including tents and personal items, will be treated as refuse, O’Toole said.

He also said police will not allow people to set up new tents in areas that have been cleared. If they do, police officers will first talk to them and ask them to leave. Those who refuse to leave eventually could be cited or arrested.

Family Services will help six other Tent City residents move into apartments and hopefully find jobs, Homeless Prevention Manager Elizabeth Wincenciak said. The organization can help those who are chronically homeless and disabled under federal guidelines.

Reach Dave Munday at 843-937-5553.