Homeless Coalition (copy)

Melanie Harrell, housing services coordinator for the Lowcountry Homeless Coalition, talks with William Brown, a homeless man, at Marion Square on Tuesday, January 31, 2017. (Brad Nettles/Staff)

Homelessness is a big problem in Berkeley County, advocates say, but the county has few resources to help those afflicted.

Part of the problem is how little data they have on the size of the issue. In 2019, statewide counts reported no information on the county's homeless population, saying they'd only been able to identify one or two such individuals.

That's a massive under-count, according to Elaine Swain, coordinator of Programs for Children at Risk for the Berkeley County School District.

In the district alone, Swain and her team have identified at least 250 homeless students to date this school year. Even that count is inaccurate due to the stigma of homelessness, Swain said.

On Jan. 23, the district is leading Berkeley County's first count of homeless individuals and families in hopes that tangible data will attract more resources. Unlike other counties, they have no formal shelter and little financial resources to help those affected, Swain said.

"It's a different face of homelessness here," Swain said. The lack of a shelter can make quantifying the homeless population difficult, since volunteers must find and identify people across the county's large geographic area.

Swain said they need volunteers for the "Point in Time" count, which is part of a nation-wide campaign, on Jan. 23. Volunteers will go into the community and survey homeless individuals, handing out care kits as well.

Volunteers can sign up at lowcountrycoc.org/volunteer-training and must attend one of two training sessions — either at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in Community's Hope Impact Center, at 212 Cooper St. in Moncks Corner, or 9 a.m. Friday in the Berkeley Education Center Boardroom at 107 E. Main St., Moncks Corner.

Organizers are also looking for more donations. They hope to pass out socks, hats and gloves to those surveyed, as well as travel-sized hygiene items like toothbrushes and soap, and nonperishable food like granola bars or cans with pull tabs.

Donations can be dropped off at the Berkeley Education Center.

The school district, along with their partners in local churches and advocacy groups, believes a more accurate count of homelessness will make people pay attention to those who often go unnoticed or ignored.

"We need to get on the map. We need to show that there's an issue," Swain said.

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Reach Fleming Smith at 843-937-5591. Follow her on Twitter at @MFlemingSmith.

Fleming Smith covers breaking news for the Charleston area. A native Georgian, she previously covered breaking news and features for The Wall Street Journal and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.