Homeless camp sweep on hold

By Don Logana - bio | email

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - There are lots of homeless people around Savannah. You see them on the streets but many live in camps, hidden away. So Savannah-Chatham police planned to clear those camps.

It was supposed to happen last month but a lack of shelter space plus a growing number of homeless cases has forced the plan to the back burner.

Now the Homeless Authority is looking for more answers to the homeless problem.

Two weeks ago, homeless camps like were supposed to be wiped out and the homeless moved to shelters.

"There just aren't the facilities to take that population at this point," explained Mark Baggett, director of the Homeless Authority of Savannah.

Baggett says the sweeps have been put on hold but the warnings remain.

"Sooner or later, you will have to leave. This is a stay not a permanent reprieve," said Baggett.

"Our question was, where will we put them because we are at capacity already," said Linda James with the Salvation Army.

James says this isn't a new problem and the plan to sweep homeless camps made her nervous.

"When we are already at capacity and they tell us an additional 100 people will come in, it's a little scary," said James.

While the cold weather is part of the hold-up on the sweeps, James says the economy is creating a larger homeless population. They have 120 beds at the Salvation Army and have been serving 146, that's 26 over capacity.

"When the economy is bad, the need is there," said James. "More foreclosures, now homeless. As a non-profit organization, it becomes difficult to plan and organize those things."

In the meantime, the Homeless Authority is planning to take action. Baggett says five percent of the population doesn't want to leave their camps.

"The five percent who shows up in front of the TV cameras of course, that drives us all nuts," said Baggett. "They tell us they are fine there, take advantage of services. That is camping, not homeless."

Until the sweeps take place, they will try to help people living outdoors.

"It's not a good thing they are under there," said Baggett. "Give them decency of portable toilets."

He's also working on getting more funding so the area shelters can expand. Long-term, they want to identify the homeless before they go back to the camps.

"No one comes out of Memorial hospital or Georgia Regional or the Chatham County jail listing homeless as they destination," said Baggett.

Baggett tells WTOC case workers will still be heading out to the camps to warn them about moving and looking for help.

But there is some good news for shelter relief. A new homeless shelter for women opened in December, called Sojourners, bringing 32 additional beds to help ease the crunch many shelters are feeling right now.