A Place Called Tent City: Part 1

In the past few years, a place known in Greenville, South Carolina as Tent City has been receiving a lot of attention from local media, non-profit organizations, and the community.  Everyone is voicing opinions on why so many homeless live in Tent City and what needs to be done about it.  One thing that many people do not know is that The Salvation Army has been serving the Tent City residents for approximately five years.  The Salvation Army’s presence in Tent City started with weekly visits that focused on building community.  A big part of this effort was providing basic needs such as food and water through a partnership with Rutherford Road Baptist Church. 

The home of a resident of Tent City - photo taken by Lt. Jeremy Mockabee 

Brent Gaines, Salvation Army Mission Specialist at Area Command in Greenville, has been a part of the Tent City ministry for almost two years.  Recalling his first time seeing Tent City, Brent remembers feeling shock and wondering how these people fell through the cracks.  He wanted to know how many chose this lifestyle and how many were forced to live this way.

As he became more involved, he began to witness the variety of ways The Salvation Army is having a positive impact.  Trusting relationships have developed, which are signifant when offering assistance to the homeless as most of the residents of Tent City have no family or friends in the community. If they do have family, often the relationships have been severed.  The Salvation Army wants to offer them real, meaningful relationships in a variety of ways.  For example, a spiritual guidance and mentoring relationship is offered. A foundation of trust is developed by listening to and learning their stories.  A big part of offering relief through relationship building is helping residents determine the barriers keeping them in their current situation and identifying their goals and dreams. After identifying these goals, The Salvation Army holds them accountable and walks beside them as they take steps to obtain positive change in their lives.

A trusted pet owned by a resident of Tent City - photo taken by Lt. Jeremy Mockabee

Often after a relationship is developed, many residents make the choice to try to change their lives by leaving Tent City and entering The Salvation Army’s shelters and rehabilitation program.  In order for this to happen, a resident must make known a desire to leave and seek help.  The Salvation Army provides them with the paperwork they need to enter a shelter and through this, it is often sadly discovered that many people do not even have basic ID documentation.  In these cases they are given a bed in the shelter and offered help in obtaining their documents.  Approximately 13 people have entered The Salvation Army’s programs, and that number is increasing.  In the past week alone, five people have taken the first steps to change their lives, seek help, and move towards self-sufficiency.

The goal of The Salvation Army’s work in Tent City is to build relationships that go beyond offering emergency assistance services.  However, meeting basic needs are a big part of relationship building.  Every week, The Salvation Army provides water - up to 200 gallons a week.  Food is distributed along with hygiene kits, and most importantly, prayer is offered. 

Brent described the general attitude in Tent City towards The Salvation Army as one of respect.  “The residents like The Salvation Army,” said Brent.  “They respect us because we keep showing up, in spite of what the current public attitude toward Tent City is.”

There are a number of amazing success stories of people leaving behind Tent City and finding housing and work through The Salvation Army’s programs, which will be shared in upcoming blog posts.  Every story in Tent City is different.  Alcoholism, drug addiction, abuse, mental illness and tragedy all play major roles in these stories.

When Brent was asked what he wished people understood about the residents of Tent City he said, “These are just people.  A lot of them really love God and just don’t know how to get out of a hard place.  They are desperate and living in a place without societal norms and expectations.  Most of us can hide our problems and failures behind our possessions.  These people have nothing left to hide behind.”   

About The Salvation Army

The Salvation Army has offerend a wide variety of Social Service Programs to Greenville area residents since 1904.  These programs include rent, food, and clothing assistance in addition to Homeless Shelters for men and women who seek a safe environment while stablizing their lives by finding permanant housing and employment.  Each day at the Main Campus on Rutherford Street, an average of 150 people who are working to change their lives through the shelter or rehabilitation programs are housed, fed, provided hygeine kits and laundry facilities, and work with case managers to determine their path to self-sufficiency.  The Men’s Rehabilitation Program is a six month program designed to allow men to deal with their lives and take their rightful place in the work force.  Partnerships are built with other local agencies so that people can quickly get help with their specific circumstances.  It is estimated that during The Salvation Army's work with Tent City that 260 mission related visits have been made by Officers, staff, and trained volunteers culminating in 520 hours serving in this capacity.

How You Can Help

The Greenville Community has supported The Salvation Army over the last 110 years since we came to the area and we are humbled by your generosity. The community can help with this particular issue by donating water, hygeine kits, bag lunches, and funds designated to Tent City efforts at 417 Rutherford Street, Greenville, SC, 29609.  We kindly ask that neither donations nor meals are dropped off at the Tent City area.  Please contact The Salvation Army PR and Media Coordinator, Anna Johnson, for more information on how to help at 864-235-4803.  For more information about The Salvation Army, please also visit our website at www.salvationarmygreenville.org for details about our programs, our Annual Report, and how to volunteer in Doing the Most Good.  




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