Myrtle Beach hopes Horry County will consider donation container at airport

Myrtle Beach officials hope Horry County will consider placing donation containers at the Myrtle Beach International Airport for a charity that helps homeless people.

The plea comes after the county’s Airport Advisory Committee was split on whether to allow it.

The city has worked on reducing the impact of homelessness for about the last three years and merged three agencies – Street Reach, the Center for Women and Children, and Citizens Against Spousal Abuse – into New Directions of Horry County in the spring of 2013.

“A couple years ago, it became obvious to us that while we have all these agencies in the city who are taking care of homeless, we weren’t doing anything about this problem,” said John Pedersen, assistant city manager.

Pedersen said the city agreed to place donation containers at locations near Plyler Park downtown and where Eighth Avenue North and Ninth Avenue North meet Ocean Boulevard. It asked the Airport Advisory Committee to place a donation container at the security points in the airport to solicit money from tourists, which was met with some support.

“I think this is wonderful,” said Ari Pieniek, advisory committee member. “Many times when people come in, nobody is going to approach them and say, ‘Would you like to donate?’ It’s just something that is there.”

Committee Chairman Chuck Martino also supported the idea, adding that allowing the charity to collect in the airport shows a different side of the Myrtle Beach community.

“Instead of a tourist handing money to a panhandler, this gives them the opportunity to put something there where somebody’s going to help manage to see that those who are panhandling, or are in need or homeless, have some sort of organization to assist them,” Martino said. “Change takes time and change takes somewhat of an awareness. The sad part is, when a tourist comes to an area and they’re exposed to a panhandler or a homeless individual, whether anything is said or done about it, they already have some sort of opinion about what our community does for those less fortunate, because they won’t necessarily be exposed to all the good things done in our community.

“But if their last experience, when they leave this town after having this, is the opportunity to see that we are, as a community, trying to do something to change what exists, it may actually leave them with a better opinion than just leaving and thinking that this town is only about tourism and dollars and not about humanity.”

But the idea was met with some resistance, as well.

Myra Starnes, an advisory committee member, said she believes the donation container should be open to other charities if the airport does it at all.

“If other people have a chance to get the money, fine,” Starnes said. “But if it’s going to one place, no.”

Committee member Jon Bourne said he applauds any agency that tries to help the homeless, but he had mixed reactions as to this proposal.

“I can see perhaps it being detrimental in the thought process of having pleasant experiences coming through our system,” Bourne said. “If we allow this agency in to collect money, why would we not be opening ourselves up to other agencies under the same purpose? Why would we not let other agencies come in? What happens to our additional monies that we spend on our security when somebody steals the money?

“As much as it sounds good, I don’t think it’s in the best interest of the airport.”

Pat Apone, director of Horry County’s Department of Airports, said similar programs exist in cities like Denver, which reported it collected about $80,000 in its first year of allowing the donation containers. She said the airport would not be responsible for emptying the container, just allowing it to be in the airport.

“It’s been something I have wanted to do for a long time, but we run into the obstacles of who to give the money to,” Apone said.

After about a 40-minute discussion on why New Directions was chosen, Apone said that was not the way she wanted the discussion to go.

“This discussion is exactly why we never brought this to the committee, because I don’t want to be the one who evaluates pros and cons and what have you of different charities,” Apone said. “They all do good in different ways. The reason that this charity was selected is because it is so strongly endorsed by the city.

“I really don’t want to see this giving in to picking and choosing and rating charities. ... I didn’t go out and select New Directions. It was selected and deemed by the city. We were working to support the city here.”