BEAUFORT COUNTY, SC (WSAV) – A Beaufort County man who was living near the County Government building for weeks has inspired a potential change to a county ordinance, and a potential boost to mental health services in the area.
“There’s a lot of cracks people fall in that they don’t get the help they need,” says Councilman Logan Cunningham.
Beaufort County Councilman Logan Cunningham was one of several local leaders and County staff members who tried to find a man, who has documented mental issues, some help here. But they found nothing but roadblocks.
The person was transferred to a mental health facility for 10 days of treatment. He was then 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.
So after all that hard work, nothing truly changed for the man or the people who tried to help.
Sadly they found right now his best bet, and many others, are jail.
“If you have pending charges and you are known to have a severe mental health issue they open the doors and beds are known to become available much quicker,” said Chris Ophardt, Beaufort County Public Information Officer.
So an amendment to a current ordinance was placed in front of the Committee.
The ordinance would be amended to have people found sleeping, camping, or cooking on county-owned properties and facilities to be arrested and charged.
“Our job on County Council is that those public spaces which are what this ordinance relies on, those public spaces,” says Cunningham. “Can be used by anybody and everybody and can be used safely in that environment.”
But the change also brings with it a bigger goal. To help those people who might be living there who want it or need it.
“Beaufort County has a gap in services,” explains Ophardt. “Have had outpatient services through the state and local providers. We have good inpatient services what they call acute care at Beaufort Memorial. We don’t have the in-between, those individuals that are suffering from schizophrenia or another mental health diagnosis that really need adult support to stay on their meds, to hold jobs, they need a level of care between being in the hospital and being on their own.”
“It has opened up a lot of eyes for people with the lack of resources we have in Beaufort County. I think its opened up opportunities for us to capitalize on, said Cunningham.
Cunningham says the change is not ideal, but its a start.
“Because you are right that is just a short-term fix, just moving someone from one place to another. Maybe that’s what needs to happen to fit into one of these zones to get the help they need, but that’s our goal, for now, to help those people that we can right now with an ordinance in place until we come up with a better solution.”
That solution may be a full mental health facility in Beaufort County. It is something that Cunningham says State Representative Shannon Erickson has been working on at the state level.
“To somehow get a mental health facility in Beaufort County,” says Cunningham. “Our closest one is in Charleston and I can tell you they are completely booked up on beds there is a shortage.”
During Tuesday’s Committee meeting, Councilman Stu Rodman called this “an opportunity” for the County. According to his data 1/3 of the homeless have physical and mental issues. And 1/3 of those want help.
The Public Facilities Committee has to present some form of the amendment to the Council, who will then go through three readings before it becomes law.