’We’ve got to find a way’: Here’s how Myrtle Beach wants to solve homeless issue

As the homeless population continues to worsen within the community, the Myrtle Beach City Council is hoping the creation of a new task force will rectify the situation.

While no committee has been officially formed, city officials discussed the potential of creating a homeless task force during their monthly workshop meeting Thursday. The proposed group would comprise of downtown business owners, law enforcement officials, residents and members from New Directions and Eastern Carolina Homeless Organization (ECHO).

“We’ve got to find a way to get them off those streets,” councilwoman Mary Jeffcoat said.

With a majority of the board agreeing a task force would potentially solve the ongoing problem, councilman Mike Lowder asserted the council research methods being used in other states and communities instead of creating another committee. While he commended New Directions for their success over the years, he feared improving the issue would attract more individuals to the area.

“I don’t want to sound heartless, but I think the more that is done, the more that will come,” Lowder said. “I think we take on problems and situations like this where folks didn’t become homeless here, they came here, and I really believe they come here because of what this city offers.”

New Directions executive director Kathy Jenkins disagreed, maintaining that individuals who become homeless do so after living here or moving to the area. Jenkins explained if an individual isn’t from the area, her group works to relocate them back home. She encouraged the council to create the task force, stressing that the organization’s four facilities are regularly at capacity.

“I think anything that can be done in the community to help us move forward would help us and ECHO solve the homeless issues,” Jenkins said. “We are full all the time unless we do something more. We are doing everything we can.”

Former Councilman and ECHO chairman Wayne Gray said a task force would address several new and existing concerns within the community. Last year, ECHO served 850 people in Myrtle Beach, he said, including 214 veterans, 269 individuals with disabilities, 26 fleeing from domestic violence and 167 chronically homeless people.

Gray also noted that ECHO provided 4,000 housing and support services. He said he wasn’t aware of how dire the homeless situation was until he started working with the housing organization.

Both Councilman Michael Chestnut and Philip Render shared their support for the task force, but Render issued concern, stating that he didn’t want the committee to have unrealistic expectations. He asked Jenkins to provide data and quantifiable suggestions that could be used to see success.

Mayor Brenda Bethune said the council would develop an ordinance at a future meeting.

“I don’t look at this as adding another committee, I look at this as a committee that can add a lot of value to the community,” Bethune said. “We can help people that need help. That’s part of our responsibility.”