Charleston’s largest homelessness services provider will receive a $5 million grant that supporters say will reshape their ability to help families who have lost stable shelter.
One80 Place said the grant will transform its field operations with a new nightly shelter for those in need and a chance to immediately rehouse families and give children more educational support.
It’s one of 42 nonprofits across the country that have received over $105 million in combined grants this year from the Day 1 Families Fund, which Amazon founder Jeff Bezos launched in 2018.
One80 Place CEO Stacey Denaux said the Day 1 fund’s board invited the homelessness services agency to apply for the grant in September and sent the good news the following month.
“The gift itself is transformational,” Denaux told The Post and Courier on Wednesday. “Homelessness is an issue that can be solved with money. … If you pay people’s rent, they stay housed; we’ve tested that theory on a small scale for years.”
The gift — the largest sum that One80 Place has received since its founding in 1984, according to Denaux — will allow it to fund shelter construction and programming without the limitations that accompany federal funds.
The organization has a four-year plan for the money, focused on serving young adults and families with children.
Many of the families One80 Place serves are young parents with small children, Denaux said. They need support so the children can access early education. Schools and other organizations can help them with supplies and transportation, but often aren’t equipped to make sure students have the basics like stable Wi-Fi and a consistent place to work.
“We don’t want to supplant, we want to enhance,” Denaux said. “It’s always been an issue, but obviously it’s been laid bare during the pandemic.”
While Charleston schools are often cognizant of their students’ needs, Denaux said, it's important for them to keep children enrolled in schools that are familiar to them, which can mean transportation and tech support for classes across the tri-county.
And though the shelter has found ways to help everyone living there, the pandemic has forced families into motels and cars, where it’s more difficult to source some services.
That’s part of why the grant is such an asset, Denaux said. While the federal CARES Act has allowed them to find safe housing that minimizes people’s potential contact with the virus, it places a strict cap on how much money can go to each recipient’s rent. Families with specific needs like location, accessibility or large space often can’t find a spot in Charleston’s inflating housing market.
One80 Place wants to address the issue at its source — not by mitigating homelessness, but by ending it.
“What this money doesn’t do is create any affordable housing,” Denaux said. “We wish we didn’t have to have a shelter.”
Most of the money will be used to ease debt from the new shelter and create programming that will kick into high gear once the shelter reopens.
But because the grant is a one-time gift, recipients have to make sure they’re equipped to keep the staffing and upkeep new programs require.
Housing means little if families don’t have furniture and cleaning supplies to take care of it, Denaux said, and the shelter also needs food and toiletries. The organization says on its website that a large portion of its funding comes from community donations.
No solution can come in a day, or from a particular organization, Denaux said. But having enough capital to build sustainable infrastructure, rather than focusing on triage meals and cots for unsheltered people, will help the nonprofit stop homelessness at its source.
Anything else is just playing catchup to the issue, in One80 Place's eyes. But this gift will help Charleston's housing-insecure families, not just to shelter, but to find stability.