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Charleston program aims to give homeless a fresh start outside of city

Police are already having success in preventing future homeless crimes while giving nearly 40 people a chance to start over. (WCHS/WVAH)

Police are already having success in preventing future homeless crimes while giving nearly 40 people a chance to start over.

That chance came through a program designed to help the homeless while cutting costs for the city in the long run.

In a three-month period, police records show 249 people arrested listed their address as "the streets of Charleston." If they each only stayed one night in jail, that is more than $12,000.

Charleston Police Chief Steve Cooper said an attempt to stop vagrant criminals from committing future crimes in the city starts with a simple conversation.

"Do you run into a lot of people from out of state that are homeless?” Cooper asked Raymond Hill, who is homeless.

"Yeah, most of the people that's here that's homeless aren't from here, they're from out of state and they just come here,” Hill responded.

They come here and stay, either for the free meals and resources or like Hill, they get stuck.

“Wife died about two and half years ago. I mean I couldn't, you know, I just ain't got out of a rut. If I could get back to Tennessee, I’d go back to Tennessee,” Hill said.

Only two things stand in the way: no money and a court date.

"We have what we call a family reunification program, and what we do is, we purchase the ticket for you. There's no pressure, it's just that sometimes when you have roots somewhere, we've found that a lot of folks do want to go back,” Cooper said.

The deal is a free, one-way bus ticket and dismissed charges. The average price of the ticket is about $120, but as long as the person agrees not to return or commit any crimes in Charleston for one year, Cooper said the city saves in the long run. If the agreement is broken, the charges will be refiled.

Within 15 minutes, police, along with the help of Prestera and city officials secured a spot Hill and his friend to head home.

"We'll try to get things worked out for you man, maybe improve your life a little bit,” Cooper said.

A fresh start has been given to 36 people through the program so far.

Click here to watch the Nov. 8 Town Hall on Homelessness in Charleston.

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