Homeless Villages in Savannah

When people complain about the homeless, the homeless often wind up under arrest. Then right back on the streets. It ties up police and the courts, and doesn't really help much. There's a new effort to help: it starts on the streets...and in homeless camps.

Now police are going off the streets and into the woods to be proactive instead of reactive.

Just over the railroad tracks, over a rickety bridge and through the woods, is a place that Nicholas Chandler calls home. "I come here because nobody's back here," he says. "They're afraid to come back here." Chandler has called Savannah's woods home for nearly a year.

Chandler says he's got everything he needs: a two-level tree house ("I started log by log, I dug all these from the forest"), a kitchen, dogs, and even a garden. But what he doesn't have is a permanent address.

That's why SPD's new Homeless Task Force is trudging through the woods. At each campsite police find in the woods, officers fill out a worksheet with each homeless person. They ask for names, next of kin and any medical problems, along with information on where the person is staying and what he or she needs. That information is put in a database.

Police also check to make sure each person is not on a wanted list. "By spending more time with these individuals, whether it's helping them transition back into living or into a shelter or medical or mental help they need. It's worth it," Corporal Charlie Fields says.

"They're doing their job. They're out trying to get bad guys. I ain't doing nothing wrong so I'm not worried about it," says Chandler.

Greg Boyeg agrees the effort is good. He has been living like this for nine years. He's got everything he needs, including a wash area. He has no interest in trading the camp in for a regular house. "The greenery is beautiful. You can hear the birds," Boyeg explains.

But sometimes on these hikes police find wanted felons. Other times they find more temporary camps with people who want to go back to the regular world, and just need help.

Police have already collected information on 200 of the 3,000 to 4,000 homeless in Chatham County. Police say the new homeless task force will eventually help make their job easier and the community happier.

Reported by: Holly Bristow