Local and state leaders seek solution for homeless camps

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - City and state leaders gathered Wednesday night at a community meeting in Savannah to find a long-overdue solution to the homeless population. This comes after State Rep. Jesse Petrea claimed the current homeless camps are unfit for human beings and an eyesore for tourists coming to the area.

Twenty-two homeless camps operate throughout Savannah, which both community members and legislators agreed at the meeting are unacceptable.

"Those things are awful. They do awful things to women in the camps. They need to be done away with, but that's easier said than done," said Yvonne Pryor, the Executive Director of the Inner City Night Shelter.

Cindy Murphy Kelley, the Executive Director of the Chatham Savannah Authority for the Homeless, said the hard truth is the city continues to either forget or deny funding for the homeless. She told the audience, "They denied our request the past two years, but they have not given money to the homeless issue for many, many years."

Kelley said currently 15,000 people are on the wait-list for affordable housing in Savannah, not including the homeless. On top of that, she said Savannah has one of the highest eviction rates in the state.

"That creates a really negative stew that ensures our homeless really don't have a chance at getting into housing," Kelley said.

Wednesday night, meeting leaders made it very clear it was a floor for the community to comment and leaders to listen. Several community members suggested various welcomed solutions. One of those was the proposal to charge the Port of Savannah a fee for shipping containers. Another person suggested the city create money in the budget designated for the homeless. Finally, a large portion of the audience said the city should at least provide the resources to the homeless to clean up after themselves.

"We can't get them a dumpster? We talk about how dirty it is and the eyesore? It's a shame, so before we do anything, let's get them a dumpster before we can clean up. It's like they're living in a third world nation," said one community member.

Several years ago, Kelley estimated the cost of dumpsters and dumpster pickup for the 22 shelters to be $137,000. She said this was a cost the city could not come to an agreement on with the Homeless Authority.

Rep. Petrea attended the meeting because he said too many of his constituents reached out for help.

"This is an issue that should be dealt with locally. I'm speaking out because I'm hearing from my constituents and it is not being dealt with by local officials," Petrea said.

Rep. Petrea was not able to present his solution to the community in the meeting, but did share with WTOC a potential site to consolidate the 22 homeless camps into one. He believes the campus for the Georgia Regional Hospital has acres of land, buildings not being utilized, with mental health services on site.

We asked if additional funding would be considered in this year's budget.

"As a broad stroke, no. The last thing we need to do is take X amount of money away from somebody else or something else and just throw it an an organization and say here, go serve the homeless. We need to know what they want to do, what they're gonna do, how is it going to affect things," Alderman Julian Miller said.

While a long-term solution was not the outcome of Wednesday night's meeting, many attendees agreed the discussion was at least moving things in the right direction.

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