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City To Remove Tent City And Find Shelter For Its Residents
2/10/2016 4:26:28 PM

Homeless residents living in “Tent City” near Huger Street downtown
Staff Reports

They may not be going home, but they will be going.

Homeless people have been living in tents set up in secluded places for years. Several years ago a group of some 16 female veterans called a cluster of tents home for them and their children until veteran affairs officials stepped in to find them permanent housing. Those women kept the location of their community hidden from public view.

But last year the lure of living independently in clusters of tents created tent communities that cropped up in plain view along the Meeting Street corridor in downtown Charleston. Three clusters, one with an estimated 100 residents sprang up on the bike path beneath the I-26 overpass at Huger Street and two smaller clusters developed beside the roadway at Meeting and Lee streets and at Huger and Meeting streets.

Well-meaning individuals and organizations reached out to help the residents of what became known collectively as ‘Tent City’. But their charity encouraged even more tent dwellers. The situation rapidly became unsustainable. Last week city authorities announced they would remove the tents and their residents.

Charleston Director of Communications Jack O’Toole said last week the city will remove the tents and is partnering with organizations that include Lowcountry Homeless Coalition and One80 Place, a downtown nonprofit organization that operates a 170-bed homeless shelter, to find temporary shelter for Tent City residents. The city was to begin removing tents from the area near Meeting and Lee streets and Huger and Meeting streets Monday. The larger community of tents beneath the I-26 overpass will be removed within 30 days to 60 days.

At a Feb. 4 press conference city officials unveiled a 10-point plan to remove the tents and assist the residents. The plan includes cleaning up the sites, removing the tents, collaborating to coordinate charitable donations, assisting Tent City residents in finding shelter, insuring neighborhoods are protected throughout the process, coordinating funding and creating a committee to identify long term solutions to homelessness.
O’Toole said the strategy allows the city to resolve the situation humanely in a way that benefits the city, neighborhood residents and those living in Tent City.

Charleston City Councilman Robert Mitchell represents the district where Tent City is located. He said, “We have to deal with this. The residents of Tent City are human, but something has to be done. They all need permanent housing and some of them need counseling, so we’re working with agencies to provide what they need.”

One group of donors proposes to construct small structures where one or two people can sleep, but the structures have no running water or electricity. Mitchell said he won’t support the proposal - first because there’s no land available where the structures can be built and secondly because the structures lack the basic essentials to the safety and health of the occupants.

Charleston Councilman William Dudley Gregorie, a former U.S. Housing and Urban Development executive said resolution to the Tent City issue is a complex one that will require a regional collaborative response. “Many of our homeless are people who are employed, but housing is just not affordable to them,” he said.

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