Residents of a small homeless encampment behind One80 Place were forced out of their spot this morning after police delivered them a warning over the weekend. At least eight of the roughly 15 former residents of the campsite have now moved into One80 Place, according to shelter officials.
Stacey Denaux, CEO of One80 Place (formerly known as Crisis Ministries), says staff at the shelter first became aware of the tent city in November or December of 2014. According to a recent City Paper story, a 35-year-old member of the camp died there on Christmas Eve, and his camp mates found his body on Christmas morning.
Police delivered a written warning to camp members Friday night stating that the S.C. Department of Transportation was scheduled to clean the site, which is a narrow strip of woods in the right-of-way for Interstate 26, on Monday morning at 9 a.m. “If your personal property is not removed in 48 hours,” the note said, “it will be removed and disgarded [sic] at your expense by the property owner.”
Charles Cross, a former campsite resident who now stays at One80 Place, says employees of the shelter reached out to his friends at the campsite Sunday night and invited them to come indoors. He says several of them took the employees up on their offer.
“One80 was real good yesterday,” Cross says. “They showed respect.”
Not all of the former tent city residents hold such a high opinion of One80 Place.
“I’ve been in there before,” says William Huthmacher, who slept in a tent beside the roar of the Interstate for the last time Sunday night. “I don’t like it in there. It’s like boot camp.”
“It’s nothing but bureaucratic junk, is what it is,” says Richard Cook, who claims he has stayed at the campsite for a year-and-a-half. “You go in there for one day, two days. You can’t smoke in there, which I can understand that … It’s like being in jail. That’s why I don’t like going in there.”
Cross, who has become something of a One80 Place apologist since moving in, says he understands why some of his former camp mates don’t want to come inside.
“They’ve got their laws, and it’s totally understandable,” Cross says of the shelter. “You know, they’re very easy rules, just don’t be drinking.” (People do not have to pass a breathalyzer test to stay at One80 Place, according to Denaux, but they are prohibited from bringing alcoholic beverages inside.)
According to Cross, the campsite had its own sort of culture and its own rules. “As Richard [Cook] would say, ‘If you don’t start no shit, there won’t be no shit,'” Cross says.
Cook describes the campsite as being democratic. “I try to keep the peace as much as I can,” Cook says. “I let people come and stay, but we’ve all got to vote on it.”
Jeffrey Simmons, a more recent arrival at the campsite, says Cook gave him a tent and welcomed him in when he got out of prison three months ago. “What keeps us going is each other. We give to one another,” he says.
According to the most recently reported point-in-time homeless count, conducted by the Lowcountry Homeless Coalition in January 2014, 109 of Charleston County’s 425 homeless people were unsheltered. Denaux says that while her staff has built relationships with some of the residents of the now-vacant campsite, “we can’t force people to come in and accept help.
“What we think might be happening right now is the proverbial rock bottom, that ‘I’m living in this tent and now I’m being told I have to vacate, so I’m willing to accept some help,'” Denaux says. “And so yesterday we were able to move in eight individuals — six non-veterans and two veterans — into the shelter, from this tent city right here.”
Some former members of the tent city still chose not to come inside, including one woman who did not want to be separated from her dog. “These are individuals who are so on the fringe of our society and have been met with resistance at every turn,” Denaux says. Still, Denaux says, it can be hard to understand why someone would choose to sleep outside rather than indoors.
“I think for a lot of people, living in a structured environment, they’re not ready for that yet — ironically, even though some of them may have been in the military,” Denaux says. “While we understand addiction and mental health issues are part of the challenge, I think there’s also misinformation that you have to have overcome that before we’ll offer you help.”
There was one possible last-minute conversion this morning: As police officers, One80 Place officials, and an SCDOT employee converged on the campsite, Huthmacher expressed an interest in checking into the shelter. Denaux says Hutchmacher has been working with a case manager today.
Cross, who has maintained a friendship with members of the tent city since moving indoors himself, says he understands why some of his companions don’t want to come inside, but he’s glad he made the choice.
“They helped me out mentally, physically,” Cross says. “They’ve got resources to get your ID and everything like that, and that’s what I need right now.”
In addition to beds, One80 Place offers services including health care, legal aid, substance abuse counseling, and daily meals.