SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — On any given night, there are people relying on sidewalks, benches and tents for beds.
Since the start of 2022, 1,118 people in Savannah are struggling with homelessness, according to the Chatham-Savannah Authority for the Homeless. Of that number, 512 are living outside, which is down from 2020.
On Tuesday night, dozens of residents came out for the monthly Downtown Neighborhood Association meeting, where city leaders responded to concerns about homelessness. It comes after officials cleared an encampment on President Street, under a bridge on the Truman Parkway, last Thursday.
City Manager Jay Melder explained it was a matter of public health and safety.
“It was long overdue to do that,” Melder said. “It was malfeasance for us to let it continue and we’re going to keep that area secure and we’re not going to allow acute public health and safety issue like that spur up again.”
Many residents are wondering where the people living under the bridge will go now.
“They didn’t come to the downtown area,” said Jennifer Darsey, executive director of the Chatham-Savannah Authority for the Homeless. “They actually moved off into a very unseen wooded area and that’ll be phase two, that’s the next step.”
“None of the individuals under that bridge had not been offered opportunities for services,” Darsey continued. “None of those individuals under that bridge had not been offered an opportunity to go into shelter, to go into recovery, rehabilitation services.”
Some residents said they have concerns about their physical safety, saying homeless people are relieving themselves in downtown squares and even on some of their properties.
“There’s not going to be an ability to criminalize that behavior and we’re not going to solve it through police enforcement alone,” Melder said. “We need to bring order to the squares and that shouldn’t happen. We need to address those issues and it is a public health and sanitation issue, but not to the same scale as that encampment.”
City leaders and Chatham-Savannah Authority for the Homeless said homelessness is a complex, challenging issue and they continue to work together to address it.
“There’s no one size fits all to address every single human life need who has become homeless,” Darsey said/ “The things that led them to homelessness, the behaviors that led some to homelessness those are some of the things that sometimes have to be addressed before a person can stabilize.
Of the people moved from the encampment, officials said one person accepted a bed at a shelter, while the others chose to find their own place to stay.
The city manager added four felony warrants were issued to people living in the encampment.