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Help One80 Place tackle homelessness during the pandemic

Help One80 Place tackle homelessness during the pandemic
November 2020

Donate a Turkey and a $20 to help the service provider's efforts



One80 Place collects a turkey and a $20 from donors during a drive-through event the Tuesday before Thanksgiving

On a cold morning last January, volunteers canvassed Lowcountry streets, polling the men, women, and youth living in tent cities, abandoned buildings, vehicles, and emergency shelters: “Where did you sleep last night?” “How old are you?” “What led to you being homeless?” As the teams gathered information, they handed out care kits stocked with hygiene items, hats, socks, and gloves—a warm incentive to answer questions in a month when nighttime temperatures drop to freezing. Their mission? The annual point-in-time count, a nationwide physical head count of people without a habitable place to live. This data helps government and aid organizations such as One80 Place understand the breadth of homelessness within a community.

“Last year in the Lowcountry, there were about 400 individuals living on the streets, including veterans and families,” says Katie Smith, One80 Place’s director of annual giving. “Homelessness doesn’t discriminate—it can happen to anybody in the blink of an eye.” She cites a lack of affordable housing and low wages as two of the biggest reasons people experience homelessness. “Charleston is up there with larger cities in terms of housing expenses, but our minimum wage doesn’t reflect that cost of living.”

(Left) Donations from the holiday fundraiser help pay for a program that gathers salvageable food. (Right) Learn more about Turkey and a $20 and give at one80place.org.

Founded in 1984 as Crisis Ministries, One80 Place has evolved from a shelter and community kitchen into the Lowcountry’s largest homeless service provider, offering housing case management, as well as health care, job placement, and legal aid. “Our clients have lived in tents, out of cars, and on park benches. They take so much pride in having a home, in having a dining table and a bed—simple things we take for granted every day,” says Smith.

Being homeless becomes even more problematic when the government issues a stay-at-home order. This spring, in the face of the pandemic, One80 Place had to quickly leverage its relationships with local landlords to get as many people as possible off of the street and out of its shelter, while seeing a 23 percent increase in the number of clients it served between March and September. To further minimize traffic through the shelter, the nonprofit suspended its community kitchen lunch service, opting to partner with the city and neighboring Navigation Center to supply meals to clients not in the shelter. After a brief pause in new admissions, One80 Place has again opened its doors to new clients who have tested negative for COVID-19. “We won’t know the full effect of the pandemic on the homeless numbers until next January’s point-in-time count, but we can make an educated guess that we could see an uptick.”

The homeless service provider supplies 170,000 meals a year.

Providing housing relief for more than 800 people and 170,000 meals annually requires about $2 million in donations from the private sector, gathered during fundraisers such as Turkey and a $20. The holiday kickoff event, held the Tuesday prior to Thanksgiving, collects birds to stock One80 Place’s freezer with a good source of protein, gift cards for clients, and bills to support a food rescue program that gathers 200,000 pounds of salvageable provisions each year. “Thankfully, we don’t have to tweak the event much this year, since it has always been set up as a socially distant drive-through,” says Smith. (Those preferring to stay home can make a donation through the website.)

The nonprofit also recently completed a capital campaign to fund a six-story building at 573 Meeting Street with 70 affordable housing units and a new family center, as well as case management offices for veterans. “One80 Place is preparing for the long haul,” explains Smith. “The next few months aren’t the worry—it’s maintaining the new threshold of support six months from now and beyond.”