There is little doubt that South Carolina's economy has taken a downturn in recent months. Home sales are down, new home construction is down, and the SC unemployment rate hit a record 8% in October placing it fourth in the nation1. This is the highest level of unemployment since 1983 – nearly 25 years. As more people find themselves out of work and unable to pay their mortgages, the rate of homelessness is increasing. Shelters throughout the state are trying to accommodate first-time homeless families, but limited resources and community opposition are adding to an already enormous problem. Add to that the decrease in donorship that inevitably comes with a suffering economy, and South Carolina's homeless are in for a very difficult winter.
Homeless Man Sitting on His Bunk at a Shelter
A 2007 report by the South Carolina Council on Homelessness found that on any given night, there were 6,759 homeless people in South Carolina – nearly 20% of whom were children. Considering the fact that Camden has just under 7,000 residents, the enormity of the problem becomes easier to grasp. The Council also found that over the course of a year, SC has more than 17,000 documented cases of homelessness – undocumented cases may increase this number significantly2.
SC ETV recently filmed a documentary on homelessness as part of its "Carolina Stories" series. It follows Eric Moseley, a homeless man who goes by the name "Protein," as he walks viewers through a typical day on the streets of Columbia. Protein stays at a temporary shelter, where he is picked up each morning by a bus that takes him downtown to the labor pool. There, he and countless others wait patiently to see if they'll be given the opportunity to work that day. The pool operates on a first-come/first-served basis. Arriving after 5:30 AM, Protein's chances of finding day labor are greatly diminished. Still, he and the others wait for official notice that they will not be given work before heading out in search of food.
The documentary, Down But Not Out, is an informative and honest look into the reality of homelessness, but the true education is the realization that each person is homeless for a different reason. Many assume that homeless people are all alcoholics, drug addicts, or mentally ill. While there is a fair portion of each, some have simply lost their jobs and, as a result, their homes. Some have served time in prison, which disqualifies them from many jobs. Some have left their homes due to abuse or neglect, and still others have not had the education necessary to allow them to earn a living wage.
Homeless Man Holding a Sign
Eric and others categorize people to differentiate between those who are homeless "by acts of God" (natural disasters, fires, etc.), those who are ill, and those who are simply complacent. Regardless of the reasons, however, the population of homeless South Carolinians is on the rise, and public discrimination is making matters worse.
Attempts to build a permanent homeless shelter in our state capital have been thwarted repeatedly. The Midlands Housing Alliance is a Columbia-based non-profit dedicated to relieving homelessness in the region. Recently, as in years past, a proposed year-round shelter has been bitterly challenged by residents living near the designated site. As a result, the "winter" shelter has been forced to move from one area to the next, in order to avoid upsetting any single community with a continuous presence. The MHA and the Salvation Army have been fighting this battle since 1997 and there is no end in sight. People without homes, seeking shelter and a sense of safety, are forced further into a nomadic lifestyle which prevents them from obtaining the necessary tools to re-establish permanence3.
Similar stories about the lack of resources and community opposition are being told throughout South Carolina. We have compiled a list of recent articles and editorials below. If you would like to find out more about what's being done to alleviate homelessness in your area, take a few moments to look over our guide to SC Resources for the Homeless.
Think you don't have the time or resources to help? Good news! It's easier than you think. Below are just a few of the ways you can help relieve homelessness in your community. For more specific information, just visit our directory of resources for the homeless in South Carolina. Click the city or town nearest you and find simple ways to contribute in your community.