Your tax money: Is helping the Myrtle Beach homeless worth it?
Posted: Nov 27, 2013 3:56 PM CDT
Updated: Nov 28, 2013 5:16 AM CDT
MYRTLE BEACH, SC - In 2013, the South Carolina Coalition for the Homeless counted more than 6,000 homeless people across the state. Statistics show that Horry County ranked among the top three counties with the greatest number of homeless. Helping the homeless is a challenge for many cities including Myrtle Beach. In the past, various groups used tax dollars to provide free services for those in need. The city of Myrtle Beach hopes to cut expenses by changing the way they help the homeless.
Charles Miller said he is happy to have a roof over his head and food on the shelves.
"I was unemployed in North Carolina for several months and ended up losing everything that I had" said Miller.
Miller lives at Street Reach, a shelter for those in need, which is a stark difference from 2 years ago when the homeless established tent cities. The encampment was on private property and drew the attention of tourists as well as Horry County police. Officers arrested nearly half a dozen people for trespassing. The move sparked protests, grabbed headlines and made the issue of homelessness a top priority for leaders in Myrtle Beach.
"Basically we want to move as many of the homeless as we can out of this community" said John Rhodes, Myrtle Beach mayor. "Being a tourist location we don't need homeless walking up and down the streets."
In an effort to clean up the city's image and remove the homeless from the streets, city officials gathered nearly 60 church groups, non-profit agencies and other organizations that served those in need. Together, they identified ways to improve services to the homeless and reduce duplicating resources.
"We have homeless people that come to one location and get groceries and go back to their camp and then go to another location and get more groceries" said Rhodes.
Mayor Rhodes said the free food along with clothes and shelter came at the expense of taxpayers. Budget information requested from the city of Myrtle Beach showed that in 2011 CASA and Street Reach received a combined $70,000 to help the homeless while $20,000 was given to Myrtle Beach Haven. In total that year, taxpayers spent $90,000 to offer certain services for those in need. The next year, 2012, CASA no longer existed but the city provided $50,000 in funding to the Center for Women and Children and $40,000 went to Street Reach. In addition, Myrtle Beach Haven received $10,000 more than the previous year, said Mark Kruea, spokesperson for the city of Myrtle Beach. After examining those numbers, city leaders looked to consolidate services and cut back expenses by forming an umbrella organization to help the homeless, New Directions.
"New Directions is an organization that was established to be a direction for change in the way we serve the people in need in our community" said Kathy Jenkins, Exec.Director for New Directions.
Jenkins said what makes the agency different is it's philosophy for helping the homeless.
"We are no longer going to provide a bed to sleep and a meal to eat" said Jenkins. "We are going to provide a plan and assistance to help people overcome their obstacles and get back into the workforce and become self-sufficient."
Jenkins said part of their plan includes Street Reach Enterprises. The faith-based program provides, food, shelter, skills training and employment services. Miller manages the shelters kitchen and hopes to find work in the local restaurant industry.
"I get up around 5:30am and get breakfast going and then after breakfast I go into cooking lunch where I usually serve about 30 to 35 people" said Miller.
Jenkins said typically Street Reach holds 55 males and 15 female residents. The agency uses an identification system know as "Charity Tracker" to monitor clients.
"This way we can track who our people are that need assistance, what sort of assistance do they need and do they truly want assistance or are they just trying to use the system" said Jenkins.
City leaders said they expect the change in the culture of homelessness in Myrtle Beach to take time and money. In the end, they hope their efforts save tax dollars and help lead the homeless in a new direction.
"We want to do everything we can to help the homeless" said Rhodes. But that homeless person that is walking down the streets that may have a pack of cigarettes in their hands and cell phone in the other hand who is not going to work and is not going to try and get a job. They need to go to another town."
For 2013, the Myrtle Beach City Council committed $121,000 to New Directions, said Kruea. He said they also allocated $65,000 in grant money for capital projects such as shelters improvements. Jenkins said the agency is still in the beginning phases but the overall goal is to use the funds to help the homeless rebuild their lives.
Here's a link to the original article.