Mon., June 2, 2014 11:15pm (EDT)

Savannah Homeless Camp Residents Have Few Options
By Sarah McCammon
Updated: 2 months ago

SAVANNAH, Ga.  —  
The Chatham-Savannah Authority for the Homeless says about 300 homeless people live in tents in the area. Photo Credit: Sarah McCammon
The Chatham-Savannah Authority for the Homeless says about 300 homeless people live in tents in the area. Photo Credit: Sarah McCammon
Close to 100 homeless residents of Savannah have just a few weeks to find new places to live. The city wants people living in several makeshift campsites on the city’s east side to move to make way for road improvements and drainage work that officials say would put them in danger.

On Monday, social service agencies met with several dozen residents to inform them of the plan and offer to help.

The tents are tucked in the woods along Savannah’s President Street on the east side of town. The campsites are adorned with pots and pans and littered with empty boxes.

Roy Wilson, 51, says he’s spent time in shelters, but he’s been living outside for a year-and-a-half.

"I have no source of income," Wilson says. "I do get food stamps, but that’s the only government assistance I get."

Tattoos cover Wilson’s painfully thin arms and legs. He says he has a form of muscular dystrophy and he’s trying to get Social Security benefits.

Wilson admits he’s served time in prison for aggravated assault and robbery.

"I used to be a drug addict, and the actions I took to get money to feed my habit sent me to prison," he says.

Near the camps, the Savannah Baptist Center provides meals, clothing, and hot showers for homeless and low-income people like Wilson. Director Stephanie Carr says many of those being asked to move have few options. She says they’re often up against mental health issues and few resources.

"They’re wondering where we can go, what we can do, so that’s why it’s so important that we show that we’re willing to ... help them figure out a plan and ... let them know what’s available to them as far as options," Carr says.

Carr’s organization is working with the city, the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department and other agencies to inform the camp dwellers that they’ll need to find a new place to live. Agencies including the Chatham-Savannah Authority for the Homeless are working to connect the residents with social services.

But getting out of the camps often isn’t easy. Danha Williams, 37, says she’s been on waiting lists for public housing for more than a year. Williams says she used to load trucks at the Port of Savannah until she was laid off.

"No matter if they have to move us tomorrow, we still gotta wait six to seven months to be put into housing," she says. "I’m just gonna relocate to another spot."

Advocates for the homeless say some can’t get into public housing because of criminal records or because they don’t earn enough money to pay even subsidized rent. Others say theyfeel safer outside than in shelters.

Those who are staying outside will have to find another place to set up soon. A city spokesman says the goal is to relocate more than 90 people before the end of July.