CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – On Monday, we highlighted a darker side of life in the Holy City: homelessness. Now, we have taken the concerns to the City of Charleston, to find out how government leaders are addressing the problem.
Owner of King Street Cookies, Harris Cohen, says that homeless individuals outside his shop are negatively impacting his business, but the city isn’t doing enough to fix the problem. He blames it on a lack of law enforcement staffing and/or effort:
“Either we don’t have enough police officers… or when they do, they don’t stop them. Chief Reuben Greenburg, he had them on foot, he had them on horse walking the street, we just don’t see that now.”
We checked on Cohen’s claims. The numbers don’t hold up.
When Reuben Greenberg took command of the Charleston Police Department, there were 214 sworn police officers. When he left in 2005, there were 362.
Currently, under Chief Luther Reynolds, there are 456.
The Charleston Police Department also says that in each case of interactions between Cohen and a homeless person, the homeless person was “found to be in violation” and either removed from the area or cited.
According to Lieutenant James Byrne, Police Commander of the Central Business District, officers are well aware of the problems caused by homelessness – both for those living on the streets, and the community in general.
He said that things like indecent exposure, public intoxication, litter, and public urination and defecation are some of the biggest issues.
Homelessness is also a detriment to public health, as it “affects the availability of services at hospitals,” since people occasionally “use emergency rooms as primary care facilities.”
But of course, CPD recognizes that the situation is not ideal for any party, and confirms that “there is no penalty for being homeless.”
They are working with people like Christopher Jardin, the City of Charleston’s Community Liaison and Homelessness Coordinator, to get to the root of the problem:
“There is often a misconception that folks who are homeless are criminals and that simply is not the case. My role is to address the root of why the person is in this situation.”
Jardin says that community outreach is focused on connecting people with vital services that are a bridge to stability and housing.
He says the city just hired a full-time outreach coordinator, and is working to house individuals at One80 Place, The Navigation Center, and even in local hotels.
Now especially, the city is finding unique ways to address the issue:
“During a pandemic, a lot of people’s social safety nets have fallen away, which puts them in a precarious position… It doesn’t discriminate. So, it’s something that anyone could be subject to.”
Armed with information about outreach efforts within the city, we went back to Marion Square to get the opinions of those on the front lines.
They said that they had used services such as the Navigation Center. They also showed that despite being down on their luck currently, they have a bright outlook for the future:
“In my future I want a job in civilization.”
“I want a house.”