Beaufort County will decide whether to ban people from sleeping on county property

·3 min read

A committee of the Beaufort County Council will consider amending an ordinance on Tuesday to allow those found sleeping, camping or cooking on county-owned properties and facilities to be arrested.

“We currently have someone living on the Administration Building grounds which is unsightly, a public health issue, and a safety issue,” says the background on the ordinance.

The Public Facilities Committee, composed of five members of County Council, is scheduled to meet at 3 p.m. Tuesday. If the committee recommends the amendment, it goes before the full council for three readings.

Dwellings of a homeless person who is living by a retention pond with an alligator in it.
Dwellings of a homeless person who is living by a retention pond with an alligator in it.

Beaufort County spokesperson Chris Ophardt said that although the ordinance would apply to people camping in passive parks, especially those closer to the beach, this proposal is aimed at someone with severe mental health issues.

Orphardt said the man was outside of the council chambers for a month.

“We kept going in circles to get him help,” Ophardt said. “It’s easier to get someone admitted into a long-term plan if they have a charge pending against them, and that’s a national problem.”

Ophardt said the person in question was transferred to a mental health facility for treatment. He spent 10 days there. After that, he was supposed to have outpatient treatment at the local DHEC clinic, but the agency ultimately dropped him as a patient because he wasn’t showing up for appointments.

“The county exhausted all mental health options trying to help the individual,” he said.

Tom Anderson, who works with Streets of America Homeless Outreach Ministry, has been working to help the homeless and the poor for 30 years. He said that when he first began, he went to Savannah because Beaufort County had so few homeless people.

Preacher Tom Anderson, who has worked in aiding the homeless and the poor for 30 years stands in front of a truck with donated tents for the homeless.
Preacher Tom Anderson, who has worked in aiding the homeless and the poor for 30 years stands in front of a truck with donated tents for the homeless.

Now Anderson said he gets calls from city officials trying to find shelter for individuals with mental health issues. He said he’s also received calls from hospitals that are releasing these individuals and need somewhere for them to stay.

“I think it’s wrong to throw them in jail on account of them trying to find a place to camp and live,” Anderson said. “If our county focused more on trying to help them instead of trying to hurt them, I think we would be in a far better situation.”

At times, he said, homeless people want to be arrested because it gives them “three hots and a cot” — a place to sleep and three meals. However, he worries that the county wants to get rid of them rather than help them. “I don’t see the city or the county or anybody trying to remedy the problem.”

Ophardt said the lack of mental health institutions in Beaufort County is startling. There are no residential mental health facilities in the county, he said. Savannah has two, but the county has no agreements for transfers, so it sends them to Charleston, which he says is full.

Beaufort Memorial Sea Island Psychiatry is backlogged, he said, and many other psychiatrists don’t take insurance. They also charge high prices for services.

District 7 Council member Logan Cunningham is working with a state legislator, Shannon Erickson, to address this issue.

“There are some political things that need to happen,” Ophardt said, “for us to at least try to improve things.”

Cunningham was not immediately available Friday for comment.

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