Homeless group finds increase in homeless, 'unsheltered'

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCIV) -- A group that tracks the homeless population across the state of South Carolina said Monday the number of homeless and unsheltered people across the state has increased.

The South Carolina Coalition for the Homeless found 6,035 people were living in shelters or on the streets in January. The agency works with regional groups to count the homeless populations across the state in a "point-in-time" count.

That count happens every two years.

According to the group, the 2013 count found that 51 percent of South Carolina's homeless were "unsheltered," or living in places not intended for human habitation. Those places include cars, parking garages, camps and other outdoor locations.

According to the most recent data, 27 percent of the homeless population were adults and children living in families. Children under the age of 18 made up 17 percent. Veterans make up 12 percent of the homeless population, including 51 women, the group said.

Nearly one-third said they were experiencing their first bout with homelessness.

"We need prevention programs that keep people from fallinginto homelessness because it is more effective and less costly to keep someonein housing than to treat long term or repeat homelessness," said Mike Chesser,CEO of the Upstate Homeless Coalition of South Carolina and nationalhomelessness advocate.

Officials said they were shocked by the increase.

"The apparent increase in the number of people withoutshelter is disturbing," said Anita Floyd, Chair of the SC Coalition for theHomeless. "We recognize that this is difficult research and that results arenot an apples to apples comparison from one year to another but the increaseshowed up across the state is significant."

The increase was particularly noted in urban areas of Richland, Horry and Greenville counties. Denser counties, including Charleston, Florence and Spartanburg, also saw greater increases in homelessness and notably in the number of unsheltered.

The census is required by the Department of Housing and Urban Development for states to receive federal funding to help the homeless. The SCCH says the HUD count still misses the full picture of homelessness across the state.

"Families tend to double up with others to avoid the streetand rural areas lack services making it difficult to find people who arehomeless," Floyd said. "The HUD count misses many people."