On January 13, Greenville County condemned the Economy Inn on Augusta Road for the second time in three years, citing plumbing, electrical, and heating issues and a lack of smoke detectors. The 80 people who were displaced—aged 3 weeks to 80 years—had immediate needs, especially transportation and a safe place to live. Fortunately, this time local service providers had a motel displacement response plan in place so they could act quickly, even with the added challenge of COVID-19.
The plan, developed following the first closure and tested in a simulation in 2018, was designed and implemented by Greenville Homeless Alliance, a coalition of over 75 public, private, and nonprofit groups working to increase options for individuals and families experiencing homelessness.
GHA coordinator Susan McLarty says having a plan facilitated the response and with the support of public and private donors and churches, everyone who wanted help received it.
“It was a massive undertaking. Partners helped 40 households in the first week. The number dropped steadily until week five, when some that seemed ready to be on their own experienced difficulty. The last 10 households, which had significant barriers to stability, received assistance until GHA’s role ended March 26,” she says.
Even though the motel was a relatively inexpensive option, those assisting them learned the occupants were paying from $840–$1,500 monthly and most had paid for a full week the day before it was condemned. Many of them were working hourly jobs paid in cash. GHA considers living in a motel room to be experiencing homelessness.
“We were able to meet the most critical needs and connect some with ongoing services. If only one life was changed, it was worth it,” McLarty says. “But this is just one of several hotels in the area. As a community, we shouldn’t be okay with this.”
GHA’s mission goes beyond managing housing emergencies. Its steering committee—which includes providers of frontline services, affordable housing, and health care; local businesses, philanthropists, faith leaders and city and county government and the school district—adopted a strategic plan in May 2020. The plan identified four action areas, envisioning work groups to focus on each: Collaborate, Advocate, Educate, and Innovate.
“If only one life was changed, it was worth it. But this is just one of several hotels in the area. As a community, we shouldn’t be okay with this.” — Susan McLarty, Greenville Homeless Alliance
The Advocate group launched in January 2021 to develop GHA’s first policy agenda and establish an Advocacy Academy to equip residents to contact municipal, county and state elected officials to help further that agenda. This work is supported by a $7,500 grant from the Community Foundation of Greenville and a matching grant from Trinity Lutheran and Sisters of Charity Foundation.
“The work of the Greenville Homeless Alliance perfectly aligns with the Community Foundation’s goal of using our philanthropic capital to address systemic issues,” says CFG board chair Liz Seman. “By supporting efforts to make homelessness brief and rare we are one step closer to being a thriving community where everyone can reach their full potential.”
GHA does its work with only two staff members: McLarty and Heather Gatchell, partner engagement director. This year they’ve been fortunate to be joined by two interns, Griffin Mills, student body president at Furman University and Ashley Lowery, a student at Bob Jones University.
“We have been energized by having Griffin and Ashley. What gives us hope is that these sharp, bright young people see the world clearly,” McLarty says.
Mills worked on the Advocate group’s policy agenda and created profile videos for a YouTube channel highlighting the work of GHA partner organizations.
“It’s important that young people get involved in the fight to end homelessness,” he says. “It’s our home, we all live here.”
To learn more, volunteer, or donate, visit https://www.gvlhomes4all.org/.