David Lauderdale

Coalition wants homelessness issue more visible

A death on Hilton Head Island last weekend has renewed a call for help for the homeless on an island better known for wealth and plenty.

A 53-year-old man was found Sunday morning slumped lifeless on a guest room bed in a south-end apartment.

He had been invited in by an acquaintance, who told authorities they had been hanging out having a couple of beers before retiring. The Beaufort County Sheriff's Office report says he told deputies the deceased was "homeless and stays with him on and off."

"In the vernacular of the homeless community, this is known as 'sofa-surfing' or 'couch-surfing' and explains why residents of our island community are unaware of the number of homeless and hungry around us," said Freddie Hodges, vice chairman of the local Homelessness Task Force.

"Generally it is women and/or women and children who use this technique to maintain invisibility, but obviously these actions are not limited to women."

Hodges also works with the Hunger and Homeless Coalition, a relatively new local network of about a half dozen churches that has started programs to help the working poor and the down-and-out.

Activists say the invisibility bothers them most. They fear the community wants this untidy issue to stay invisible by looking the other way. They fear Hilton Head is not really open to housing the homeless, yet they're convinced that at the very least, emergency shelter is needed.

The task force says five homeless men have died on the island in the past three to four years. Volunteers have learned to fear for the safety of the homeless in hot weather more than cold. They would like to establish a Homelessness Reserve Fund of $5,000 to $10,000 to pay for temporary housing for the homeless.

Hodges said that when people raise questions about dealing with the homeless and all their personal baggage, "I always go back to the question, 'What would Jesus do?' There's no way he would ignore someone who is ill or destitute."

In last Sunday's case, the homeless man's host saw him slumped on the bed, then found him unresponsive and cold to the touch. The sheriff's report said the man "drank a beer in memory of his friend and then called 911 at approximately 0710 hours."

The Beaufort County Coroner's Office took possession of the body and his belongings.

The Hunger and Homeless Coalition thinks that should not be the end of the story.

"There should've been something that could help him," Hodges said.

Follow David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.

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