Community mediation helping to address homelessness in Greenville

Greenville (Jan. 22, 2018/FOX Carolina)

In downtown Greenville there’s a lot of growth and new housing in the same area where homeless people receive services. That has resulted in a certain amount of conflict between neighbors and agencies that serve the homeless, but it’s also resulted in an on-going community mediation effort.

An educational meeting at Kroc Center scheduled for Monday evening is just one part of that effort. The meeting is called “Homelessness – How can I Help.” Organizers say the discussion allows neighbors, homeless agencies and all interested groups to understand one another better and find common ground.

Speakers from Triune Mercy Center, Miracle Hill Ministries, Salvation Army and others will talk about the current state of homelessness in Greenville and issues like affordable housing.

When the Salvation Army sought a zoning change last year to add more living space to its shelter, the agency became aware of a growing resentment among neighbors who had concerns about trespassing, trash, safety and crime. In response, the Salvation Army organized a trash pick-up event and started engaging with neighbors and inviting them to open house events.

“We want to be a good neighbor,” said Salvation Army Development Director, Rachel Wilkes. “We want to meet you and know you and have you tour on campus and become a volunteer.”

The Salvation Army along with Mercy Triune Center and Greenville Rescue Mission are the three main agencies that serve the homeless downtown and the area where they operate is being called the “Homeless Triangle.” The agencies want to have a good relationship throughout the entire community they serve, so the Greenville Homeless Alliance reached out to a mediation center for assistance.

“What we overwhelmingly hear from neighbors is they support homeless services,” says attorney Lawson Wetli who is a volunteer mediator with Upstate Mediation Center.

She adds, “They’re reasonable and want to be part of an inclusive community.”

Wetli has been meeting with groups of neighbors, city officials, homeless providers and homeless people themselves.

She said, “As one can imagine there are conflicts that can happen when there’s a substantial homeless population with the neighbors. Especially because there is a subset of homeless population here with substance abuse issues, mental health, and there are understandable concerns neighbors can have.”

She says the key is to keep an open dialog and make sure those concerns can be communicated and addressed. This includes scenarios like an agency agreeing to patrol its property more or a homeowner agreeing to volunteer with one of the agencies.

"People who are in a neighborhood relationship, a community relationship, are in the best position to identify and solve their own problems," Wetli said. "The best way to make that happen is for them to come together and communicate what the issues are and keep those lines open.“

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