[Hpn] Horry's Homeless Walk Streets Of Myrtle Beach

William C. Tinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Sun, 10 Jul 2005 07:49:06 -0400


www.myrtlebeachonline.com/mld/myrtlebeachonline/12098620.htm

July 10, 2005

Horry's homeless walk streets of MB

City struggles to maintain its services, image

By Emma Ritch

The Sun News


Myrtle Beach attracts more homeless people than surrounding areas, and
leaders are torn between being socially responsible and fiscally minded as
the city tries to grow its tourism and convention industries.
Cities are charged with providing services to all residents, but a growing
segment of residents complain that the presence of homeless people is doing
more than creating eyesores for tourists - they say it's hurting the city's
efforts to redevelop the downtown business district.
The beach is a magnet for those looking for a life in the sun and tourism
jobs. Fluctuating employment and high housing prices land some in the spot
of having no steady place to sleep. They join the ranks of the homeless
downtown, where shelters and community kitchens exist, and city efforts to
move those services are stalled.
Many homeless people said recently that they understand the effect on
businesses but have nowhere else to go.
The homeless people congregating in downtown parks, such as Nance Plaza or
Chapin Park, can hurt the once-thriving area where the city has worked to
again draw businesses and visitors, some residents say. Some business owners
complain that the begging and loitering prevent the overhaul groups such as
the Downtown Redevelopment Corp. have worked toward in recent years.
Summer visitors flood the downtown, where some homeless people find them a
prime target for panhandling, and it can hurt the city's image as the two
groups interact within close quarters, experts say. Panhandling is illegal
in Myrtle Beach.
"Here you can't help but go downtown because all roads lead downtown," City
Manager Tom Leath said. "When you've got that sort of population up on the
forefront, it's a little disconcerting from a tourism standpoint."
Leath said the presence of homeless people has not stopped redevelopment
downtown but that the city has yet to address homeless problems on a grand
scale.
"We don't have a really long history of a lot of homeless, and all that's
changed in recent years," he said. "As a city, we're just trying now to get
our hands around what it is we can do and should do."
Leath said the city is divided on how to address the problem.
"You try to walk that line that it's legal to sit there," he said. "And at
the same token, you want your parks to be used for their intended purpose."
A city's problem
Myrtle Beach draws homeless people at a higher rate than surrounding
municipalities.
According to a count of the homeless population in January, 64 percent of
the homeless people in Horry County live in the Myrtle Beach area although
the city has 11 percent of the county's year-round population. The Myrtle
Beach area has 15 percent of the state's homeless population. Scott Googe, a
disciple at Street Reach Ministries, said that is a low estimate because
many more homeless people live in Myrtle Beach's woods.
Many of the county's services for the homeless are in the renovated Five
Points area, which sits just off the valuable commercial real estate of
Kings Highway in Myrtle Beach.
Donna Tyson, owner of the Red Bow Gifts, Coffee & Tea near Street Reach,
said she considered the presence of homeless people when locating next to
Nance Plaza a year ago.
"You can either be part of a solution or part of the problem," she said. "We
came in with our eyes open, knowing this would be a challenge."
She said the Red Bow has worked with police and the shelters to keep the
area customer-friendly.
"It isn't the shelter that has been our issue, it is the people who get off
the bus and aren't part of the programs that the shelter offers during the
day and instead who live on the streets," she said.
Panhandling and the presence of homeless people downtown inhibits
redevelopment because some businesses fear relocating to areas perceived as
unsafe for employees and customers, said David Sawicki, professor of city
and regional planning at the Georgia Institute of Technology. This is
especially true for businesses that employ or cater to women, who are more
likely to be fearful of homeless men, he said.
Unity village
Jobs draw people who later become homeless. One of the main problems
low-income workers face is finding affordable places to live.
"The attraction to them is that there's jobs and opportunity. What's hard
for them is that there is no housing," said Judy Swanson, executive director
of Grand Strand Housing and Community Development Corp.
Rooms at hotels go up in price during the summer, and housing prices across
the Grand Strand are rising because of rapid growth.
Myrtle Beach has responded to the strain on housing resources with the idea
for Unity Village, which would move many of the homeless out of city limits
and offer a cluster of services. However, Myrtle Beach hit a snag in the
plan to move its scattered services for the homeless to an encompassing
complex on U.S. 501.
The city's progress to purchase a building and surrounding land has stopped.
The owners of the Lowe's building have been unresponsive, said Cliff Rudd,
Myrtle Beach community-development administrator. The property has 5.5 acres
of land and a 30,000-square-foot building - ideal for a complex of this
proposed size, he said.
"Unless we can get our property, we are spinning our wheels," he said.
The city relies on private help to run the services but is helping agencies
locate a site for Unity Village because it would boost care for the homeless
and downtown redevelopment, Rudd said. Planning Director Jack Walker told
Myrtle Beach City Council in November that the complex could incorporate
Myrtle Beach Haven, Street Reach, day-labor businesses, a food bank and a
job-training program.
Homeless people is a broad term that encompasses those who want help and the
chronically homeless who tend to abuse support services, said Libby
Faulkner, executive director of Street Reach.
Faulkner said she's eager to move the shelter somewhere with more room.
"This is not the block to have all that. Absolutely, this is one of the
richest blocks in this area. We want out," she said. "I can understand [why
people complain], but regardless of where we are, there's still going to be
homeless in downtown Myrtle Beach."
The causes
Nationally, homelessness is an increasing problem but one that is difficult
to measure because the condition is temporary for many people and difficult
to physically count.
One estimate by the Urban Institute says about 3.5 million people, 1.35
million of them children, are likely to experience homelessness each year -
amounting to about 1 percent of the country's population.
According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, two trends largely are
responsible for the rise in homelessness in the past 20-25 years: a growing
shortage of affordable rental housing and an increase in poverty.
The Grand Strand's median home price is $160,000, well more than what many
of those who work in the area's tourism industry can afford.
In Horry County, a worker earning minimum wage must work 99 hours a week to
afford a two-bedroom unit at the area's fair market rent, according to the
National Low Income Housing Coalition. Someone working 40 hours per week
must earn $12.79 per hour to afford a two-bedroom unit at the area's fair
market rent, according to the coalition.
Charles Halvorsen is staying in Street Reach until he secures a place to
live. Halvorsen, who works, said police intimidate and threaten homeless
people so they leave the city, or at least the city parks and beaches.
"It's a family-oriented town, so they try to run them off," he said. "If you
don't keep yourself walking, they lock you up."
The programs on the Grand Strand have helped some homeless people back on
their feet.
Swanson said that within the first month of Alliance Inn Apartments opening
last year, eight women went back to school and nine or 10 people who hadn't
found jobs were able to secure employment.
Downtown homeless
Myrtle Beach police Capt. David Knipes said although Myrtle Beach's homeless
population has increased in recent years he has not seen an increase in
illegal activity by the homeless people downtown.
"The majority of the arrests for homeless people are more along the lines of
alcohol-related crimes, public intoxication or something like that, not
necessarily violent crimes," he said.
Panhandling is illegal in Myrtle Beach. However, Myrtle Beach police,
specifically two officers assigned to downtown, try to educate panhandlers
as they encounter them, unless the person has proved to be a repeat
offender, Knipes said.
"One of their assignments is to foster a safer and friendly environment in
the downtown area" by building relationships with business owners and people
who are often in area, including the homeless, Knipes said.
Many homeless people congregate in the downtown parks during the day,
including Nance Plaza and Chapin Park. City Council heard proposals during
the budget workshop this year to raze a gazebo in Chapin Park to discourage
homeless people from sleeping there but ultimately decided not to spend the
money.
Jim Wilson, a longtime resident who owns Aphrodite the Love Shop near 21st
Avenue North, said he understands there are homeless people who need help.
But Wilson said he's seen too many homeless people panhandling or scamming
tourists to feel sympathy for them.
"Women will not go in that area during the day, much less at night," he
said. "If you have a business there, forget it."
Wilson complained about the homeless population's effect on downtown at a
City Council meeting this year, and the audience responded with applause.
"As long as we cater to them, they won't go away," he said. "They're hurting
the local people, they're hurting the local economy; they're nothing but
leeches."
Recently, Edward McCrackin, 39, and Michael Blaylock, 41, waited in Nance
Plaza for Street Reach to open up for dinner. As Blaylock rode a Lymo bus
from Conway to Myrtle Beach, McCrackin walked about 25 miles from his
family's home in Conway to Myrtle Beach, getting badly sunburned, after an
argument with his parents.
"I have no idea what I'm going to do," McCrackin said. "I'm just lost. I
know I don't want to be on the streets - it's too hot out here."
McCrackin noted the irony as he waited for dinner - he recalls bringing
donations to Street Reach not long ago:
"It's my first time being homeless, and I feel sorry for them. But I put
myself here."
McCrackin vowed to return home the next day. He said swallowing his pride is
better than life on the streets.
Still, he was amazed that he walked 25 miles to the shelter only to learn
there were no beds available.
"There's a homeless shelter down here - there's not one in Conway. That's
why you come to the beach," he said.
No state leadership
According to a state report, no state agency is responsible for leading
homeless programs.
"This compromises accountability - we do not know how much local federal or
state funding is spent on homelessness," said a 2004 report by the S.C.
Council on Homelessness. "And while individual providers or coalitions can
sometimes provide data on the impact of their programs, it is impossible to
gauge how well the state is serving the poorest of the poor."
Swanson of Grand Strand Housing leads Total Care, a regional coalition that
oversees care for the homeless, and said Myrtle Beach is doing an excellent
job of coordinating its services for the homeless despite the lack of state
leadership.
"Solutions need to be statewide and metropolitanwide," Sawicki said. "It's
not right that the problem should be borne by the small, central city."

ONLINE | The city prohibits panhandling of all types. See the complete
ordinances at www.MyrtleBeachOnline.com.

Contact EMMA RITCH at  eritch@thesunnews.com  or 444-1722.