Live 5 News Investigates: Homeless migration from the city to the suburbs

VIDEO: Live 5 News Investigates: Homeless migration from the city to the suburbs
Published: Feb. 5, 2015 at 11:39 PM EST|Updated: Feb. 6, 2015 at 12:05 AM EST
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WEST ASHLEY SC (WCSC) - Twenty-three-year-old John Sinclair quickly fell into hard times. Just four weeks ago, he had a home.

"It's one of the most frightful things you've ever seen in your life, pretty much, as far as weather conditions and hunger."

Sinclair, who's a roofer, says as winter set in, jobs became difficult to find.

He's married with two children.

"I've been trying to find a job, but, in the meantime, I'm trying to keep a roof over my head. So, that's where this comes in."

Sinclair's wife also panhandles. Their children are in school. They don't have a car, so they stay around West Ashley and try to collect enough money to spend the night at a motel.

Sinclair's corner of choice is the intersection of Interstate 526 and Sam Rittenberg Boulevard, feet from another man and woman who were panhandling on Savannah Highway.

Anthony Haro is the executive director of the Lowcountry Homeless Coalition. Haro says according to the most recent study, there are 525 homeless people in Charleston County. He says the number is likely higher.

"I see the need, and I need to do something about it."

Haro's organization has noticed the growing number of homeless in the suburbs of Charleston and is working to get a count of the homeless living in West Ashley zip codes. He says no research exists yet as to why more homeless people are moving out of the city. He says it could be that a suburb offers more privacy than a bustling peninsula.

"You kind of want to have your own space. You want to feel more secure, so you want to turn and find a place maybe other people won't find you or know that you're experiencing homelessness."

Sinclair, who is from Goose Creek, says there is less competition for corners in West Ashley and panhandling is illegal in Berkeley County.

Fifty-seven-year-old Ronald Moorer says he prefers the secluded woods of West Ashley.

He gave Live 5 news an exclusive look at his home, pitched behind a grocery store.

"This is where I live. This is my house. I have a bed"

Moorer doesn't panhandle. He lives off the land and money from the government.

"I cook. I clean. I wash dishes. I get water."

He's been here 18 months.

"I do choose to live this life. I love nature. I rather be here in the woods than being in an apartment or around a bunch of people."

For Sinclair, it's not a choice, but his reality for the time being.

"It's something that I can't even explain it in words how aggravating, how it all is. It's just the point that you try to do so much for yourself. You get ahead in life and then get knocked back ten steps."

There are no emergency shelters in West Ashley. The closest is One80 Place on Walnut Street in downtown Charleston. It's the only emergency shelter for men in a seven-county radius.

Panhandling was illegal within Charleston city limits, however, the ban was lifted in March 2014. Officials say no ordinance addresses the issue at the county level.

In Dorchester County, there is no ordinance specific to panhandling, but the Sheriff's Office says, if necessary, deputies can apply the loitering law.