Chatham County homelessness spotlighted in community meeting

Cindy Kelley is the Executive Director of the Chatham-Savannah Authority for the Homeless (Credit:Robert Catanese)

Wednesday night saw concerned residents, local and state law makers joining Savannah Police command staff at a public meeting to discuss an issue some say has been plaguing the county for decades.

The Chatham-Savannah Authority for the Homeless compiled the 2017 census numbers.

They include 4,198 homeless people in Chatham County, of which 2,812 are African American, 1,189 are white, 121 Hispanic, eight of Asian descent, 13 American Indian and 55 listed as other ethnic origins.

Out of those, 231 were listed as veterans.

Cindy Kelley is the executive director of the Chatham-Savannah Authority for the Homeless.

“The situation is not getting better,” she said.

She said both city and county representatives need to come together to help the rising tide of homelessness.

“I think we have good relationships with individuals and staffers, but when it comes to getting folks together and supporting policy change, there is a lot of finger pointing and I get caught in the middle a lot,” she said.

State Representative Jesse Petrea has been vocal about the county’s homeless issue.

“This is an issue that should be dealt with locally. I am speaking out because I am hearing from my constituents and it is not being dealt with by local officials,” he said.

Most attending Wednesday’s open meeting said something needs to be done.

“We need to find a better place for them to live that we can actually endorse for them to live so that they don’t have trespass on public right-of-ways. There needs to be a better place,” said Petrea.

He said there needs to be a meeting of the minds from local law makers in getting some traction addressing the more than 22 homeless camps throughout the county.

He offered a solution of potentially utilizing the Georgia Regional Hospital as a base camp to house and localize the thousands of homeless in the Hostess City.

“[There are] buildings that are not being utilized with services on site that excel at mental health services and substance abuse services, why can’t we consider that for a camp site and for shelter,” he said.

Kelley said she has been vocal in the past, but funding has been denied as recently as last week. She is hoping Wednesday’s meeting is a start of a dialogue with local government, residents and stakeholders.

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