West Ashley Faith Groups Work to Help Area’s Growing Homeless Population | New
Homelessness in West Ashley may not be as visible an issue as it is in other parts of the Lowcountry – including heavily populated downtown Charleston and the city of North Charleston – but church groups and activists say there are a growing number of people in need there. .
“It has been very visible,” said Rev. Marshall Huey, rector of Old St. Andrew Parish Church.
The church, a 1703 building that serves as the oldest surviving church building in the state, spearheads a newly formed coalition of religious entities, advocacy organizations, activists and d government agencies working to bring attention to the growing homeless population.
In Old St. Andrew’s, located on Ashley River Road, the place of worship provides help at least once a week to someone who comes to church asking for help.
The church has seen more homeless people in need of help this year than in the past 10 years combined, Huey said.
Some people need food and water. Others need a place to wash their clothes or charge their phones.
Known as the West Ashley Team Combating Homelessness, or WATCH, the goal is to bring together different entities that can begin to meet immediate needs by providing people with important items, such as bus passes and cell phones. .
It also brings together groups working towards the same goal of uplifting the community.
“Really just a hub of communication for those people who do the groundwork,” said Dianne Bowler, who led the ministry’s founding efforts.
It’s common for grassroots groups to be unaware of others leading similar initiatives, Huey said. The new network allows departments to share resources, pursuing an overarching goal of helping those in need.
For example, thanks to the coalition, Old St. Andrew’s has just learned about the auto maintenance ministry from Seacoast Church on the Savannah Highway. Old St. Andrew’s now plans to direct people and resources to the Department of Vehicles.
“It’s a real opportunity to do the greatest good but not have to reinvent the wheel,” said Huey.
There are also long-term goals that will require a lot more funding and planning. Organizers would like to see a homeless shelter established in West Ashley at some point.
“What I’d like to see is some sort of West Ashley health center on the Citadel Mall property,” Huey said.
The group is still in its early stages of formation, but WATCH has already made some small initiatives.
The group recently secured 50 bus passes for free CARTA rides to give away to those in need. Team members also recently learned of the new Lowcountry Veterans Home on James Island, a new facility that includes 15 beds for the homeless.
WATCH also organized a clothing drive, helped a woman pay her cell phone bill, and put another woman in touch with a health counseling service.
These are small beginnings of what the organizers hope to develop into a larger portfolio of services.
“I feel like we’re right on the borderline of that,” Bowler said.
Uplift Charleston is one of the few activist groups to have joined Old St. Andrew’s Parish, Coastal Community Church, Seacoast Church, City of Charleston and many others to form a coalition that could be modeled on others. municipalities in the region.
“I think churches and groups see that things can be done with grassroots efforts,” said Aaron Comstock, whose Uplift Charleston group has served the North Charleston homeless community for years.
The county’s homeless population appears to be increasing slightly.
In 2019, the one-time annual tally required by the federal government revealed 4,192 homeless people statewide. In 2020, that number climbed to 4,268.
In Charleston County, the survey found 323 homeless in 2020, a slight increase from 318 the year before.
The crisis is widely visible in North Charleston, the state’s third largest municipality. The problem is widespread in the southern end of the city, where many live in poverty.
Large camps are tucked away in wooded areas off Rivers Avenue. In addition, food gifts, clothing distributions, and a church soup kitchen often draw large crowds at the intersection of Cosgrove and Rivers avenues.
In West Ashley, homeless communities are more dispersed, advocates say.
A walking trail and properties behind the grocery stores are common camp sites.
“It’s not that centralized,” Bowler said.
A coherent source of funding to support WATCH is under discussion. Those who want to contribute to the program can send money by mail to Old St. Andrew’s Parish Church at 2604 Ashley River Road.
Reach Rickey dennis at 937-4886. Follow him on Twitter @RCDJunior.