Thursday’s editorial applauds the Myrtle Beach City Council on its adoption of an official city policy on homelessness and seeks to explain some of why it’s needed:
We’re lucky enough to live on the beach, in a warm climate, in an area with plenty of resources and advantages. Millions visit each year, and many others would love to live here, so it should be no surprise that the region also attracts those who have no home. The homeless population in Myrtle Beach is growing, with the latest count in 2009 putting the total at around 900. One in five of those were under the age of 17. The question before us is, what’s the proper response? Myrtle Beach City Council took on that question Tuesday, and came to a couple of conclusions.
First, council members agreed the aid needs to be targeted toward those who sincerely want to change their lifestyle. The resolution that the council unanimously passed supported assistance to those “who are actively engaged in an effort to break free from the cycle of homelessness.” At the same time, the city’s newly adopted policy is to “discourage temporary residency” of those who are not trying to improve their circumstances.
Councilman Mike Lowder, for instance, was especially leery on Tuesday of recently released inmates and seemed frustrated by the S.C. Department of Corrections’ policy of providing bus tickets to those released. “They gave them a ticket here,” he said. “We should give them a ticket to Oklahoma.”
Second, the council supported the creation of an umbrella organization to help coordinate the work of the 60 or so agencies that work with the homeless population throughout Horry County. This goal was identified as a major need in the 10-year plan to end homelessness drawn up by Home Alliance Inc.
The coordination is now shared by a number of organizations that overlap and have differing memberships. For example, the nearly 50 agencies that make up the Eastern Carolina Homelessness Organization work in 12 counties, including Horry and Georgetown; the Waccamaw HOME consortium covers Horry, Williamsburg and Georgetown counties; Home Alliance coordinates work in Myrtle Beach; the Homelessness Organizations Committee has more than 30 local, state and regional organizations involved; and there are also ongoing partnerships between the Myrtle Beach and Conway Housing Authorities and the Conway and Horry County Housing Authorities.
Some agencies work with one group but not another. Some groups share a tracking system so they can tell how much aid a person has received from other agencies. Other groups use a different tracking system. Bringing all of the information and agencies under a common umbrella would help everybody work toward the same goal, eliminate duplication and improve communication across the board.
As of now, the city’s resolution represents only a preliminary step toward more concrete action, but it’s an important step. When budget time rolls around again and organizations queue up to ask for city money, the guidelines laid out will help city leaders prioritize and determine which agencies to fund and which specific programs to get behind. Because many of these agencies rely at least in part on city aid, a clear city policy will also help individual agencies tailor their programs to better align with the city’s goals and get everybody on the same page.
As City Manager Tom Leath told the council on Tuesday, the budget will be an important tool in accomplishing this feat. The city can look more kindly upon those groups who fill a need represented by the city’s policy. “If they don’t,” Leath said, “then you don’t fund them.”
Even as the city focuses its efforts, it’s important to realize that the problem will never entirely disappear. One likely reason our homeless population continues to grow is that our city has long been active in its support for homeless services. As word spreads that there is help available in our area, it draws in more people in need. The 10-year plan estimated that the county needs 627 more beds to be able to house all of the county’s homeless. We’re sure, however, that by the time that housing is built and the beds in place, more will be needed. That reality is why it’s important to seek the most efficient use of our energies, through better communication and more targeted help.
Carol Stallings, who works with the homeless as part of the Swash Ministry, told the council on Tuesday that 16 homeless people have already died on the streets this year, matching the total for all of last year, with more than four months yet to go. That’s a number none of us should like to see rise further, and it’s for that reason above all that we’re strongly in favor of a more concerted, cooperative effort to keep this disturbing statistic in check.