Fund to help residents of tent city find homes

Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg and others have announced a fund to help with moving costs for the homeless at the Tent City on Meeting Street at Interstate 26.

Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg is hoping people who donated to help homeless residents who live in the so called Tent City will continue to donate to help them move out.

Tecklenburg announced Wednesday that the city was launching the Homeless to Hope Fund, a fund- raising effort co-chaired by Charleston-area businesswoman Linda Ketner; Steve Skardon, executive director of the Palmetto Project; and the Rev. Charles Watkins Jr., pastor of Morris Brown AME Church. He also said area churches are gearing up to help.

The money raised will be used for security deposits, utility hookup costs and other things necessary to help the remaining residents of the encampment on Upper Meeting Street near Interstate 26 move into permanent housing. There are no administrative costs, and all of the money raised will go to help homeless people transition to permanent housing.

“We need to offer a hand up to people who need a new start in life. Living in a tent isn’t a good starting place,” Tecklenburg said.

City leaders have said the tent community can’t remain where it is indefinitely. Earlier this month, about 100 tents were pitched in Tent City. Already some people have been moved out of two smaller portions of the encampment. They plan to clear the third and largest portion by the end of March.

And the need to act is becoming more urgent after four violent crimes have been reported this month in and around the encampment.

On Feb. 8, a man allegedly was slapped around, his keys were stolen and later his car was missing. And two strong-arm robberies were reported Saturday night at the same location. About two weeks ago, two men were stabbed.

Local residents for months had been bringing food, clothing, tents and other supplies to people living in Tent City. But some longtime advocates for the homeless said the outpouring of donations fueled the growth of the encampment and failed to get to the root problem of homelessness.

Skardon said he hopes donations will continue, simply in a different way. “Hopefully, it will continue in the form of monetary donations,” he said, adding cash donations allows for more flexibility.

He also said employees at agencies that help the homeless will be able to request money from the fund for their clients’ needs. Those employees tend to know what people need, Skardon said, and currently there are no restrictions on the money. “But we may have to set some limits,” he said.

Tecklenburg said the fund will be in place until all of the Tent City residents have been relocated. City officials and others haven’t yet decided if they will continue the effort for other homeless people after that.

Tecklenburg also said that earlier this week he met with 80 representatives from churches and other faith-related groups, calling on them to help the homeless.

Some churches will essentially adopt a person and help him or her land a place to live and possibly a job. Others will contribute in myriad ways, he said.

And some individuals from those groups have agreed to serve as volunteer mentors to people currently living in Tent City. A local church is providing training for mentors, he said. “You have to have a little knowledge about how to help.”

Dave Munday contributed to this report. Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter @dianeknich.