Officials making move to clear out Tent City City plans to relocate all campers within 60 days, find them housing

Homeless people have set up tents on both sides of upper Meeting Street, an encampment now being widely referred to as Tent City.

The sprawling homeless encampment known as Tent City along Upper Meeting Street will be cleared in 30 to 60 days, Charleston officials and homeless advocates said Thursday.

The announcement was made at a meeting at One80 Place, a local organization that provides shelter and other services to the homeless.

The city released a 10-point plan to remove the encampment, which is made up of one large and two small clusters of tents, and help residents find homes.

The plan begins Friday with moving people who live in a small portion of the encampment on the east side of Meeting Street, between Huger Street and the ramp to Interstate 26. On Monday and Tuesday, a more southern portion on Meeting Street near Lee Street will be cleared.

The city also plans to move out people in the largest cluster — on the west side of Meeting Street, between Huger Street and the ramp to I-26 — within 60 days.

About 100 people live in the main portion of the encampment, while about a dozen live in the two smaller clusters.

Mayor John Tecklenburg, who has been on the job for about a month, said the city’s plan is not in reaction to a fire that damaged a few tents over the weekend or to the stabbing Tuesday that sent two people to the hospital. Tecklenburg said city officials and homeless advocates have been discussing the proper response for weeks. “It’s coincidental timing,” he said of Thursday’s announcement.

Geona Shaw Johnson, the city’s director of Housing and Community Development, said the city is working out a lease arrangement for the state-owned land on which the large portion of the encampment sits. Such a lease between the city and S.C. Department of Transportation will give the city jurisdiction over the property and let it proceed with removing the encampment.

Charleston City Council must approve the lease, she said, and it is expected to consider it later this month.

The plan also calls for DOT to clean up a portion of the site; for working with groups to find more housing; and for establishing a website to better coordinate donations.

Johnson said the city and others will work with all residents of the encampment to help them find other housing. “The goal is to have a place to locate those persons,” she said. “The idea is to place the individuals in safe, decent housing.”

Residents of the two smaller portions of the encampment will be offered housing at One80 Place, she said.

The city also is continuing to look for a building, perhaps on vacant government property, to house more homeless people. Such a building could be converted to a “low-barrier” shelter, which would have fewer rules than One80 Place. That shelter requires residents to abstain from alcohol and drugs during their stay.

Tony Elder, deputy chief of the Charleston Police Department, said officers already are having discussions with people living in the two smaller encampments to help them make plans. “We have officers that know most people there by name,” he said.

He also said the police are working to get voluntary compliance. Over the next 30 to 60 days, he said, officers will be educating residents daily about the upcoming move-out dates.

Those who refuse to move by those dates will see their tents and belongings removed, he said.

“We ultimately could have an arrest scenario,” he said, “but that’s the last resort.”

Stacey Denaux, chief executive officer of One80 Place, said the shelter can house a maximum of 170 people. As of Thursday, there were only 13 spaces available. But that changes daily, she said.

Also on Thursday, Charleston County Council Chairman Elliott Summey and State Rep. Wendell Gilliard announced they were forming a Lowcountry Task Force to Combat Homelessness. The group is open to anyone who wants to help the homeless. The first meeting will be held at 10 a.m. Monday in County Council Chambers, 4045 Bridgeview Drive in North Charleston.

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