Each January, service providers across the country do their best to learn the number of homeless individuals and families in their communities as part of a “point in time” count conducted nationwide. By last count, South Carolina’s homeless numbers increased from roughly 5,040 in 2014 to an estimated 5,354 in 2015, according to the SC Coalition for the Homeless.
Most significantly, a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) report on the 2015 count noted a 235 percent increase in chronically homeless individuals in the Palmetto State between 2014 and 2015.
Bruce Forbes, special projects manger with Sunbelt Human Advancement Resources (SHARE), said he believes more efficient counting was behind the startling increase. The S.C. count no longer relies on observation, but homeless people must be interviewed and identified so there are no duplications, Forbes said.
“As a state, we have gotten more and more intentional about getting the most accurate numbers possible,” he said.
Trends in 2015
Rev. Deb Richardson-Moore, pastor and director of Triune Mercy Center, said she has seen consistent numbers of homeless individuals in Greenville County hovering between 900 and 1,000. Her ministry primarily sees single people rather than families, she said.
The only significant increase she noticed was several years ago during the recession, when the center’s food pantry distributed between 50 and 70 boxes of food each week. “Now we are giving out between 30 and 50 boxes,” Richardson-Moore said.
Rev. Tony McDade, executive director of Greenville Area Interfaith Hospitality Network (GAIHN), said his organization has seen the need for shelter for families remain consistent between 2014 and 2015 “with a slight uptick.”
Families who “double up” or stay with other families are often not included in homeless counts, though they are homeless by some definitions, McDade said.
Forbes said these families are in danger of losing shelter in a moment. “They are not counted as homeless, but are one argument away from being tossed out by the family they are staying with.”
Some families end up without a home because they “aspire to live in a cool place like Greenville” and move here assuming they can find a job, McDade said. Many want a production job, but single parents cannot find child care for a 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. workday, he said. McDade also sees families needing shelter because they are between jobs or homeless because of medical reasons.
Counting homeless youth is a “work in progress,” according to HUD. Local nonprofit AidJoy is launching a new program to assist homeless students in Greenville County, estimated between 771 and 2,000+, according to Greenville County Schools and AidJoy. An online tool and street outreach program will connect homeless and at-risk youth with local service providers, said Jess Dennis, AidJoy director of operations.
Affordable housing needs
McDade, Richardson-Moore and Forbes all agree that affordable housing is a key component to addressing local homelessness. A family shelter was listed as a goal in a homelessness white paper released by an Upstate task force in 2015, but McDade said a long-term solution is affordable housing, not a shelter.
“GAIHN could fill a 15-family shelter today and have more families pop up,” he said.
Richardson-Moore said she encounters those who receive disability support, but do not have enough left over after rent for expenses, even if they continue to use a food pantry. Rents at $200-$500 per month would help these people, she said. “Many say $500 and up is affordable housing,” she added.
Affordable housing should range from single occupancy or efficiency-style apartments to two- or three-bedroom single-family homes or apartments, Forbes said. Spending 30 percent or less of household income on housing is what defines “affordable,” he said. Some people are staying in low-income hotels because they can make weekly or monthly payments, but cannot afford a rent deposit or have bad credit, he said.
What 2016 holds
One of the white paper’s priorities is a homeless coordinator for Greenville County. This person would serve as a neutral leader who would work to make Upstate agencies’ efforts effective. The position would ideally have joint funding from the City of Greenville and Greenville County, advocates say.
Richardson-Moore said she is hopeful a homeless coordinator will come out of the City of Greenville’s recent study on affordable housing, and the post would have some teeth because of joint funding. McDade agreed, noting, “We need an individual whose voice will be heard.”
Creative and innovative approaches are required to create a long-term solution to the long-term problem, McDade said. He added he is confident that the community has the public and private resources to help fund the solutions.
By the numbers
564,708 – number of U.S. homeless during Jan. 2015 count
5,354 – estimated homeless in SC, 2015 count
5,040 – estimated homeless in SC, 2014 count
1,961 – estimated homeless in 2015 in Upstate counties (Cherokee, Union, Saluda, Edgefield, McCormick, Greenwood, Laurens, Spartanburg, Greenville, Abbeville, Anderson, Pickens and Oconee)
35 percent – number of Palmetto State’s homeless who were unsheltered and living in a place not meant for human habitation (2015)
Sources: U.S. HUD 2015 Annual Homeless Assessment Report and SC Coalition for the Homeless