CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - The City of Charleston released a 10-point "road map" to help people living in a so-called "Tent City" under the interstate in downtown Charleston and areas along upper Meeting street.
At a roundtable discussion at One80 Place on Meeting Street, city leaders met with members of the Lowcountry Homeless Coalition, One80 Place and others to create a plan to help homeless people find services, shelter and permanent housing.
"This plan is a road map to get us started," Mayor John Tecklenburg said. "Not only will those without shelter have the resources they need to begin reordering their lives, but we are doing this in a way that will return the area to normalcy within the next 30 to 60 days."
Lowcountry Homeless Coalition's executive director says out of the about 105 tents on the peninsula the coalition has conducted 91 interviews to understand the needs of the homeless community. The Coalition reports out of the 95 interviews nearly 91 want to live in housing.
Some people living in tents downtown say they don't want to go where the city has offered them to stay, a local shelter.
"Some people look like we're invisible, like we don't matter, some feel like I chose to do this, I didn't choose to be homeless," says David Madan who lives at the intersection of Lee and Meeting Streets.
It's been his home for the past two months, but next week his encampment site will be the first to be cleared as a part of the City of Charleston's plan.
"If you kick me out how am I going to take my bed all the things I own?" says Madan.
That's a question a group in his community are asking. Madan says it was two days ago a city official talked with him about the move. They say they're glad to know the city is acknowledging the issues they face, but Madan would like to see it done in a different way. The 10-point plan indicates people living in his area will be offered immediate shelter at One80 Place.
"It's time to address it, and really address the long term problem of trying to provide more permanent housing that we help these folks get a new start in life," says Mayor Tecklenburg.
The plan was created in partnership with One80 Place homeless shelter, Lowcountry Homeless Coalition and others. Starting Friday SCDOT, who owns the Tent City property will begin to clean-up debris and trash in the largest encampment site at the intersection of Meeting and Huger.
"We don't like the visual that encampments present, we don't want to think of our fellow man living in those conditions," says CEO of One80 Place, Stacey Denaux.
Smaller encampments will be cleared first and the city will tackle the main site of relocating nearly 100 people. The city says they will only be moved when they have someplace to go. That's why the city is working to provide more shelter housing options and it's still in the works.
"However building large scale housing is not the answer either, we need to find a way to accommodate people across the housing spectrum," says Denaux.
Madan questions, "What are you going to do with all these people in 60 days?"
According to a release from the city, the road map includes the following initiatives:
- Beginning Friday, the property's principle owner, the South Carolina Department of Transportation, will begin to clean up the site, removing trash and debris that has accumulated near the main encampment.
- On Monday and Tuesday, the area around Lee and Meeting Streets, including the large white tent, will be cleared. Those currently living in that location will be offered immediate shelter by One80 Place.
- In the same time frame, the areas on the east side of Meeting Street will also be cleared, with shelter again offered by One80 Place.
- The city will partner with SCDOT to establish clear legal jurisdiction over the area through a new lease agreement, which will be presented to Charleston City Council.
- Collaborate directly with churches and other charitable organizations to coordinate any further distribution of donated items and to keep the encampment clean.
- Support the work of the Lowcountry Homeless Coalition and other non-profit and faith-based organizations to provide information and housing-assistance services to homeless people, including the development of individualized housing plans.
- Continue current efforts with county officials and nonprofit partners to identify additional shelter space to house those who have been living in the encampment until more permanent housing options are available.
- Work with area residents, local elected officials and neighborhood association leaders to ensure the needs of neighborhood residents are protected throughout the process.
- Establish a city-affiliated website which will allow private citizens to get involved by making donations and volunteering their time. The associated fund will be opened with $50,000: $35,000 from the City of Charleston and $15,000 from the 2016 Charleston Inaugural Committee.
- Appointment of a citizens "blue ribbon" commission to begin bringing people together around long-term solutions to the problem of homelessness in our community, so that this situation does not repeat itself in the future.
"No plan is perfect, and we understand there are going to be challenges," City of Charleston Housing and Community Development Director Geona Shaw Johnson said. "However, we believe that this strategy will allow us to resolve this situation humanely, and in a way that benefits the city, the neighborhood residents and those currently living in Tent City."
"We are a caring city, and we are approaching this situation with attention and respect for everyone involved," Tecklenburg said.