City of Charleston using 'housing first' approach to address homelessness in region

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - This week marks one year since the City of Charleston developed a plan to help the homeless move out of what had become known as Tent City.
It was an encampment under the I-26 overpass in downtown Charleston. The city is now using a housing first approach to tackle homelessness in our region. 

Some people are still homeless and have moved to other parts of town outside of tent city. However some are now living in apartments through the city's help. 

Mayor Tecklenburg established a homeless fund and through donations it has helped people with expenses as their transitioning into a new place.

Jody Teninty moved out of Tent City last year.

"I couldn't afford a rent... I couldn't rent nothing out with my credit." Teninty said.

Now there's not a tent in sight at Tent City. He is now living in an apartment and working for the city.

"After being there for a couple of months all I heard was fighting, stabbing," Teninty said.

He said it took about four months for him to get a place after moving out of a tent. Teninty spent some time at the transition housing provided by the city. 

The City of Charleston assisted him in the transition through the Lowcountry Homeless Coalition and faith based groups.

There's now a Mayor's commission on Homelessness and Affordable Housing to continue to tackle the homelessness issue in the region. The initiatives includes mayors from Charleston, North Charleston, Summerville and Mount Pleasant. 

They started meeting in November of last year and they've also established an advocacy and outreach committee to help educate the community on homelessness. The commission also explores funding options to help solve the issue.

Geona Shaw-Johnson is the Director of the city's Department of Housing and Community Development. 

"We are being a bit more aggressive and we're being collaborative about how we approach this issue," Shaw-Johnson said.

With the housing first model, the city has been working with landlords to help house the homeless.

"We've seen a nice d rop from what we've seen last year," she said.

Support services are still needed. One woman moved out of her apartment less than a week after the city helped her.

"One of the things she indicated was that she missed the camaraderie of being around her friends, being around the other persons in the encampment," Shaw-Johnson said. "So we knew right then that supportive service those wrap around services had to follow."

Putting people in houses instead of shelters has proven successful in other cities. 

"The hope is to resolve homelessness to establish a system whereby if someone becomes homeless, within 30 days we have that person housed," she said.

For Teninty, he's setting his sights on home ownership.

"You gotta stop and think, they're human too, like I am," Teninty said. "I was homeless now I have a place on my own to a point, but I want something that I can call home without paying rent to somebody else."

The Lowcountry Homeless Coalition is working on homelessness statistics in our area, it is not able to release the data at this time. 

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