Homeless in the Holy City: Part 1

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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Charleston is known nationwide for its great weather, friendly people, and beautiful neighborhoods — it is a top tourist destination, with people traveling from all over the world to get a taste of Lowcountry life. But look beyond the postcard views, and hidden in plain site is a darker picture: homelessness in the Holy City.

According to the South Carolina Interagency Council on Homelessness, approximately 318 Charlestonians were homeless in 2019. A year later, many of them are still on the streets.

Those suffering from homelessness, business owners, and law enforcement all agree: homelessness hurts everyone.

Amid the five-star restaurants, tourist shops, and historic buildings on King and Calhoun Streets in Downtown Charleston, we found Thomas, Sheila, and Uriah sitting under a tree in Marion Square.

We spoke with the group about what it’s like to be homeless in American’s friendliest city.

Thomas and Sheila are relatively new to the streets, having been homeless for two years and one year respectively.

Uriah says that he has been homeless for most of his life.

They say that panhandling is their main source of income. Uriah usually gets the best response, because of his dog Rocky.

But not everyone responds amicably. King Street Cookies owner, Harris Cohen, says that homeless people on King Street are a detriment to his business. He wants them gone:

“With the vagrants who are constantly troublemakers and don’t want to move forward with their lives… You just have to get rid of them.”

Cohen says that a 2017 initiative by the City of Charleston to break up the “tent city” under the Ravenel Bridge led to an increased presence of homelessness on King Street:

“Tent city formed and they broke it up but they didn’t have a plan, what are we going to do with the vagrants who left tent city and came down here?”

Cohen takes photos of people who loiter near King Street Cookies. He has stacks of photos of homeless individuals, and says that potential customers often cross the street to avoid them.

While speaking to Cohen, one of the individuals in the photos passed by. We showed the man Cohen’s photo of him, and he was visibly surprised.

We asked the man about the “problems” he causes, according to Cohen, and the man said that Cohen is a liar.

The back-and-forth is a familiar sentiment. Cohen says that even when he has photos of the individuals he takes issue with, the Charleston Police Department does little in response.

On Tuesday, we’ll take these concerns to the City of Charleston to find out how they’re addressing the problem.

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