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Advocates call on North Charleston to address homelessness

Updated: May. 18, 2021 at 5:21 PM EDT
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NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Activists are calling on the City of North Charleston to make meaningful strides to tackle the problem of homelessness.

On Tuesday morning, representatives from Walking Women Welfare, Favor Foundation, Five Star Legacy Group, Covenant House of Recovery for Women, and Destiny Café gathered outside the café to demand the city create a more attainable path for those experiencing homelessness to transition back into society.

“I think since we have been standing here just because I know what it looks like, I have seen about five homeless people walk by,” Aquilla Kirk said.

Kirk became homeless last year after her job shut down during the pandemic. She is now a client with Walking Women Welfare, a non-profit that helps homeless women get back on their feet by providing them with housing among other services.

Kirk had been sleeping behind a Dollar General before she found Walking Women Welfare. She says there are a patch work of programs that can help with homelessness, but they’re confusing and it’s difficult to know what’s available when you’re living on the streets.

“If you look too dirty you can’t get the help, and if you look too cleaned up you must not need the help,” Kirk said. “As a female you have to come to them with a black eye and bruises in order to prove that you need the help. I think most women have been through domestic violence but if it isn’t immediately, then you can’t get the help. Right now, it seems like they are helping men and veterans.”

Pastor Alfrieda Deas-Potts started Walking Women Welfare and is one of the loudest voices calling for the city to help address the problem, especially for women. The organization operates multiple homes where women begin to transition out of homelessness, but she wants the city to do more.

“We wanted to open a big facility with government assistance, but they never showed up,” Deas-Potts said.

Currently, there are no city operated transitional facilities in North Charleston. Deas-Potts had approached the city with the idea of helping them start one last year, but never made any headway. After the successful graduation of five women in just one year from her program, she is hoping the city will take notice.

Pastor Thomas Dixon is part of the group calling for action.

Ultimately, they want the city to streamline current resources to make them easier for people in need to access them, sit down non-profits who are already addressing the situation to see where the city can help, and open up property that could be used as transitional housing.

“Open up, not only single housing units that will house 20 or so residents, but open up a multi-housing unit such as a renovated hotel or motel where we can house 100 members of our population,” Dixon said. “Unfortunately, society has turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the homeless population.”

The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness estimates there were 4,172 people experiencing homelessness in South Carolina as of January 2019.

Deas-Potts says getting an accurate homeless count is tricky and says they have noticed a significant increase since the pandemic. She also says the number does not take into account the working poor – those living in places like hotels but not making enough money to ever have a real home.

“We have an older lady who was in the hospital, in a rehab center for three months and by the time they released her she had been evicted from her home. This is a lady with an income but had no place to go after being released from the hospital,” Deas-Potts said. “We don’t need to start putting a stigma on what homelessness looks like. Any of us could be without a paycheck and not be able to make next week’s rent and be homeless.”

In a statement, a North Charleston city spokesperson said, “We are working with partners to address the issue.”

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