This is the Holy City, not the Tent City

A Tent City garbage pile on Monday under the Meeting Street overpass in Charleston. Frank Wooten/Staff

Affordable housing is sadly lacking in Charleston.

Another sad trend: Our supply of apparently affordable tenting is rapidly rising.

Unsightly evidence of that increase has been hard to miss for those of us who regularly take the Meeting Street exit off of the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge. Near the bottom of that ramp and under overpasses, swelling ranks of down-and-out people live in tents on what is, for many visitors, a gateway to Charleston.

A middle-aged man with a fine dog told me Monday that he’s been there since last April. Near their tent, on the east side of Meeting, lie two growing garbage piles.

Post and Courier colleague Diane Knich reported on Sunday’s front page that this Tent City has inspired a “massive, informal charitable network ready to meet their basic survival needs” — including not just tents but food, clothing and medical care.

However, the sights, sounds and yes, smells, of Tent City have also prompted practical — and fair — demands that the encampment be removed.

Charleston City Council passed an ordinance last fall eliminating the unseemly, unsafe and intrusive practice of panhandlers working the intersection at the bottom of the Ravenel exit ramp and Meeting Street — and anywhere else in the city.

The American Civil Liberties Union challenged the previous regulation against begging in traffic as an infringement of free speech. So council, to pass constitutional muster, extended the prohibition to anyone — not just panhandlers — from handing to or taking anything from a vehicle in a roadway lane.

New Mayor John Tecklenburg knows the local homeless problem all too well as a former chairman of Crisis Ministries.

That shelter changed its name to One80 Place in 2014, moving into a much nicer new building not far from Tent City.

While Tent City is on S.C. Department of Transportation property, agency officials said it’s local law enforcement’s obligation to police it. Tecklenburg said city staffers are meeting with DOT officials to sort out the authority to act.

Meanwhile, ponder this Associated Press dispatch, filed last Wednesday from another popular coastal tourist destination with high housing prices: “San Francisco’s iconic Dolores Park is now home to the city’s first open-air urinal, the latest move to combat public urination.”


There’s no coincidence that lots of the sweet volunteers now facilitating Tent City’s sour spread live far from it.

There’s no doubt that their good intentions yield bad results for those who do and those who don’t live in tents.

And there’s no good reason why Charleston area residents should tolerate a miniature — but expanding — version here of the vast, filthy, pathetic tent cities in Buenos Aires, Manila and Mexico City.

OK, so right-wingers (including me) who rightly hail personal responsibility while decrying debilitating dependency on government, are occasionally too quick to blame the homeless for their plight.

Plus, consider the cruel wealth-gap contrast between Tent City and this update from the front page of our Sunday Business & Tech section:

“In 2015, 427 homes valued at $1 million or more were snapped up in the Charleston region, 34.3 percent more than the previous year.”

Then again, life, like professional wrestling, isn’t fair.

And though these labels are now deemed overly judgmental, bums, rummies and junkies do frequently make their own hard luck.

Sure, we’re all ultimately prisoners of fickle fate.

Any of us, without our good fortune (so far), might be living below an underpass, too.

Yet that doesn’t mean we can let Tent City become a permanent Holy City fixture.

Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier. His email is