New installations in Marion Square raise questions on homelessness

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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Social media outrage ensued this week after armrests were put up on a circular bench in Marion Square. The outrage was mostly due to the fact many homeless individuals congregate at the bench to sleep late at night. However, the armrests brought to light a bigger conversation of what protections the City of Charleston has for those that are most at risk.  

Geona Shaw Johnson, the Director of Housing and Community Development for the City of Charleston, said the homelessness issue throughout the Lowcountry can be described as a great challenge as there is ‘probably over 1600 unsheltered or homeless persons in the Lowcountry’.

Those estimates taken back in January for the city of Charleston alone are around 450. Shaw Johnson says since the pandemic, there has been a slight uptick in un-sheltered individuals.

Since the observation, the city of Charleston has received $600,000 in both a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG Grant) as well as Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA) funding to assist those at risk.  

The city is working with literally 5 organizations to get that funding literally on the streets, for lack of a better term, to help assist persons with rent assistance, mortgage assistance, utility assistance. So that’s in addition to the efforts that are being under taken of course by other service providers.  

Geona Shaw Johnson, Director of Housing and Community Development 

While shelters are still closed due to COVID-19 requirements—the city found another option—putting up more than 31 families in local hotels for the time being. 

Until those persons can literally transition into housing, or transition back into shelter until they located housing. The city has also been working through our homelessness coordinator with the Medical University of South Carolina and the food bank to deliver meals to those persons while they are in the hotels so that they are not left without food. 

Geona Shaw Johnson, Director of Housing and Community Development 

As for the armrests, the city said ‘The new armrests are part of a small decorative improvement project around the fountain, including the installation of several bronze statues of animals native to our part of the Lowcountry.’

They went on by encouraging anyone experiencing homelessness to seek assistance by calling 855.355.7433, or by visiting the city’s Navigation Center in-person at 529 Meeting Street, which is just 6 blocks from Marion Square.

Assistance programs provided by the City of Charleston that are out in the community:

  • The City of Charleston: Christopher Jardin- 843.577.1305
  • One80 Place – 843.737.8357 (Housing Crisis Line)
  • Charleston Dorchester Mental Health – 843.852.4100
  • Fetter Healthcare – 843.722.4112
  • Veterans Administration – 843.577.5011

Agencies that can provide assistance:

  • The Navigation Center -855-355-1200     
  • Origin SC – 843.628.3000                               
  • Our Lady of Mercy- 843.805.8064 (Neighborhood House)
  • Palmetto Community Action Partnership-  843.724.6760     
  • Humanities Foundation – 843.856.4120   
  • Charleston Center – 843.958.3300
  • Ryan White Wellness Center – 843.402.3093
  • Palmetto Community Care – 843.747.2273
  • St. Matthews Lutheran Church and other faith-based communities – various
  • Florence Crittenton – 843.722.7526
  • My Sister’s House  – 843.747.4069
  • Charleston Trident Urban League – 843.769.8173

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