South Carolina homelessness on the rise

Homeless vet Lloyd Gruhl has been staying at Crisis Ministry Homeless Shelter. He now has a job and hopes to move out the shelter soon. The New Yorker says that most homeless people that stay in their cars or outside don't want to follow shelter rules. (Brad Nettles/ 6/25/13

Places such as cars, campsites, parks and parking garages are preferred by about half of the state’s homeless over public shelters, according to a study released Tuesday.

Living on the streets has increased 72 percent in the past two years, the South Carolina Coalition for the Homeless reports.

“The number of people who were found to be unsheltered is troubling,” the analysis states.

The snapshot picture of the problem is based on the coalition’s Jan. 24 count of 6,032 homeless statewide, including 3,116 who reported finding refuge outside of shelters. In 2011 the total homeless count was 4,701.

In Charleston County, slightly more than half of 403 homeless were “unsheltered.” All 25 identified as homeless in Berkeley County fended for themselves when it came to overnight accommodations. Of 49 homeless in Dorchester County, eight were living outside of emergency shelter or transitional housing.

The increased numbers of homeless could, to some extent, reflect a more accurate count in the most recent study, said Anthony Haro of the Lowcountry Homeless Coalition.

The problem of homelessness to some extent reflects a lack of affordable housing, said Anita Floyd of the South Carolina Coalition for the Homeless.

Some 30 percent of respondents in the new study said they were homeless for the first time, she said.

According to the Jan. 24 count, Greenville County has the most homeless people at 896 followed by Horry County at 839 and Charleston County at 403.

A new national report on homelessness says South Carolina has 11 homeless people per 10,000 residents. In comparison, the homeless rate for Georgia is nearly double that amount. North Carolina and Tennessee homelessness is slightly higher than the Palmetto State, according to “The State of Homelessness in America 2013.”

At Crisis Ministries on Meeting Street, spokeswoman Amy Zeigler said the South Carolina Coalition for the Homeless report was pretty accurate. She said the numbers of unsheltered homeless people were not surprising.

“People who aren’t ready for this environment just don’t come here. We believe that they are making a choice. We’re not turning people away,” she said.

The shelter rules include having a plan for finding a home. Alcohol and drugs found on the street are banned, she said.

Shelter resident Lloyd Gruhl, 60, said having a temporary home at Crisis Ministries has allowed him to get a job as a janitor. He also has a bead on a $375 per month apartment, utilities included.

“If you still want to drink and get high, it ain’t going to go over too well,” Gruhl said.

Gruhl has been at Crisis Ministries for almost 90 days.

A New Yorker, Gruhl said he is not sure about staying in this area.

“They’ve been good to me here,” he said. “It’s kind of a little too much back country for me. It’s a nice place to visit but I don’t know if I would like to live here.”