Homelessness at Home
Today, you would never guess it, but Dennis Jeter, a 53-year old real estate professional, spent almost a quarter of his life homeless. For over 12 years, his struggle with substance addiction and, subsequently, an inability to keep steady work landed him on the streets of New York City, and then, eventually, Greenville. He credits the support from a new marriage and a local church for helping him break the cycle. He is remarkably open about his past and visibly emotional when he speaks with gratitude about his success and many blessings, including the home he and his wife now own.
“Homelessness is not who you are, but just where you are,” says Lorain Crowl, executive director of United Housing Connections (UHC). “There are so many circumstances that, if you don’t have a support system around you, anyone can find themselves homeless.” In fact, statistics show that those at risk of or currently experiencing homelessness are people of any age, gender, race, education level, and socio-economic status.
According to UHC, an estimated 4,000 homeless people live in South Carolina. About 18% of those individuals struggle with chronic homelessness — experiencing long-term or repeated homelessness — often due to serious mental or physical health issues. Some of the highest concentrations in the state are in the Greenville area. Over 180 Upstate residents are chronically homeless, and over half of those are located in Greenville County alone.
Why Is There Chronic Homelessness?
Many individuals are able to access community resources and personal support systems and make their way out of a temporary homeless situation.
“Yet, for some, finding a home is only the beginning,” Crowl says, “particularly with the most vulnerable in our community, with whom challenges — such as domestic violence, mental or physical disabilities, substance abuse, and post-traumatic stress — make sustaining housing impossible.”
Permanent Supportive Housing as Part of the Solution
Nationally, the best-practices model for addressing chronic homelessness is Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH). PSH is a “Housing First” approach that sees housing as the basic foundation for life improvement. Therefore, unlike other programs, it does not mandate participation in services or require people to address problems such as unemployment, addiction, or health issues before they may access housing. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, the model is helpful for anyone, yet has been particularly effective with PSH programs, which target the chronically homeless and provide long-term rental assistance and supportive services.
United Housing Connections is the lead agency for the Upstate Continuum of Care, a collaborative of over 80 service providers, as well as individuals, that organize and deliver services to address homelessness in the 13-county region. UHC also is the key builder and manager of Permanent Supportive Housing in the Upstate. Crowl says: “It’s providing housing without barriers. It’s taking someone, literally, off the streets, and giving them a home, and then providing the support services to help them be upwardly mobile.”
According to Crowl, the Housing First/PSH model is proving successful in Greenville, with many stories of individuals getting the help they need to improve their lives and engage positively within the community. Also, since taxpayers often foot the bill for frequent emergency room and detention visits associated with chronic homelessness, there are significant savings to the public. Based on a study of one of UHC’s facilities built in 2006 — Reedy Place — when someone becomes a resident, the annual cost to taxpayers drops from $19,000 to $1,600 per PSH resident, a 92% decrease within two years.
Church Street Place at Poe Mill
UHC is partnering with The SEARCHlight Initiative to build an additional 36 units of Permanent Supportive Housing. Modeled after Reedy Place, Church Street Place at Poe Mill will include property management with 24-hour security and daily on-site support for residents on a wide spectrum of services. The project has been in the planning stages since early 2018 and broke ground in April 2019. Now the partners are focused on increasing community awareness and raising the $3.4 million needed for construction by September 2021. Once completed, Church Street Place will be owned and managed by UHC and funded by grants, tenant rents, and federal housing vouchers.
The SEARCHlight Initiative – Residents Helping Residents
In early 2018, a group of about 20 senior citizens founded The SEARCHlight Initiative to help create solutions for Greenville’s homeless population. The initiative evolved out of a class at Furman University’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), organized by retiree Jim Carroll, with the help of local experts, to educate members on the homeless crisis in Greenville. He says: “We talked about homelessness. We talked about Permanent Supportive Housing, and Housing First … and out of that, we were rewarded with excellent people that wanted to get involved.”
Carroll says the level of volunteerism on the Church Street Place project is exciting, with many retirees donating their time and skills to the project. “As a result of which,” he says, “the cost of the [fundraising] campaign we are running is remarkable. It’s going to be under 2% of what we raise.” And Carroll says it’s not just seniors involved. “We now have working people who are volunteering their time, which I think is even more impressive.”
One such volunteer is Carroll’s neighbor — Dennis Jeter. Jeter says that while he has moved on from his past on the streets, his passion for the homeless never left him. He helped where he could — ministering, providing clothing and haircuts, and handing out food gift cards he carried in his wallet. Yet, he longed for a venue to be part of a bigger solution. He says the Church Street Place project is a perfect fit because having a home is critical to helping those caught in the cycle of chronic homelessness. “Having a home makes you feel like you’re human, like you are a person. Makes you feel normal. So, that emotionally helps you move forward. … When you don’t have that foundation, you are still in survival mode. You are still trying to find your way. I’ve been there. It makes it harder.”
Get involved – What can you do?
SEARCHLight Initiative and UHC are seeking donations, as well as volunteers, to help raise funds, build partnerships, and create community awareness of the project. Contact Jim Carroll, campaign chair, at email@example.com.