Battling cold, sleet homeless in Fort Mill get Samaritans’ gifts

joverman@fortmilltimes.comJanuary 29, 2013 

Editor’s note: This is part III of a series examining the reality of homeless people in Fort Mill Township.

Matt, a homeless man who declined to give his last name, rushed around the homeless camp near Carowinds Boulevard on Friday with his arms full of new blue tarps.

He worked most of the morning creating a back wall for the camp out of tarps as sleet fell around him. He hoped the wall would protect the camp from the frigid wind that blew all day Friday and became icy and nearly unbearable Friday night. The day’s low temperature was in the 20-degree range, not counting the wind chill factor.

The tarps, like many things around the camp, were donated last week after people read about the township’s homeless in the Fort Mill Times and on fortmilltimes.com.

A trailer full of firewood was donated, as well canned goods, tents, blankets and gift cards to local fast-food restaurants.

Matt is especially grateful for the donated items. Originally from Ohio, Matt has been hitchhiking around the Southeast for three years, he said. He stopped in Fort Mill last week after meeting Lester “Skip” Frankenfield, a homeless man who has lived in the woods in Fort Mill for more than four years.

After meeting Matt, Frankenfield noted that Matt’s shoes had holes in them and that he needs a coat.

It was serendipity.

Here was Matt, in need of help, and Frankenfield with a camp full of recently donated food, coats and other items. He invited Matt to come back to his camp to get whatever he needed.

Matt found a pair of shoes that fit him perfectly and a coat. He got a sleeping bag to keep him warm and some blankets. He’ll stay there with Frankenfield, “for a while,” he said, though he couldn’t say for sure how long.

Matt can’t talk for long. Since Frankenfield did him a favor, bringing him in and sharing the donations with him, Matt wants to repay the kindness by getting the back wall complete by nightfall.

Cold Weather survival

Battling the cold, especially with the recent freezing rain, is a challenge the homeless have been better equipped to face thanks to the new blankets and firewood. Matt sleeps in a corner of a donated tent, on a small pile of blankets inside a donated sleeping bag.

Frankenfield continues to huddle inside a rusted old minivan, multiple blankets piled over him.

When asked if they’re OK in the cold weather, they each said, “Yes.”

With sleet falling last Friday and more expected through the weekend, they remained unconcerned.

“We’re experienced,” said Bob Clute, who lives in a homeless camp near Frankenfield and Matt.

Both camps had fires burning for warmth during the day. The fires are kept far from their sleeping areas and offer little warmth through the night. They sleep in layers of clothing and hats.

“I mean, it sucks, man, but it’s OK. God’s blessed me with a warm sleeping bag. So, I’m OK,” Matt said.

Donations pouring in

Frankenfield’s spot in the woods has become much like the corner store, though no money is exchanged. Donations are being dropped off there and Frankenfield ensures they are passed out among all of the homeless. He said the firewood has been a huge gift to both him and the other homeless people in the area, as have the food and blankets.

Even some of the donations that didn’t seem immediately helpful have been useful in the long run, he said. One person donated women’s clothing that didn’t fit any of the homeless. Frankenfield held onto it and found it came in handy just a few days later when a friend of his who used to be homeless came by to check on him.

The friend has an apartment now, but she is still struggling and barely able to make ends meet. Frankenfield was able to offer her the clothes.

“God is definitely working out here,” Frankenfield said.

On Friday, a group of Tega Cay residents dropped off carload after carload of food, including platters of chicken tenders from Beef O’Brady’s in Fort Mill’s Baxter Village, blankets and hygiene products. They also donated several special quilts designed to combat cold weather.

Seamstress Anne McParland of Tega Cay made the quilts from scrap material. The filling is made from quilt batting, the backs of T-shirts and anything else that would provide a soft, light and warm fill. She enlisted friends Tracy Imler, Therese MacPhee and Elsie Hummel to help make the quilts and delivered them along with the Rev. Roald King, head of Feed the Hungry, a group that has been assisting the homeless in York County for more than 40 years.

After delivering the quilts and standing in the cold weather for more than two hours last week, McParland went home and spent an hour inside trying to warm back up, she said.

“I snuggled under my blanket inside and thought about how for them, this just goes on and on. There is no light at the end of the tunnel,” she said.

When the quilts were complete, MacPhee, also a Tega Cay resident, sent an email to her neighbors asking if anyone had supplies to donate. From there, the food, paper products, soap and other hygiene products arrived.

“People think this problem [homelessness] is too big, one person can’t do anything, but look how much we can do,” McParland said.

“It has been amazing the outpouring of charity,” Frankenfield said.

Amazing, but also overwhelming, Karen Clute, Bob’s wife, said.

The Clutes said they’re grateful for the assistance, but are concerned about the exposure. They are afraid someone might come to harass them or steal their supplies.

“There are some people prejudiced against homeless people, you know,” Bob Clute said. “We worry about those people.”

But out of the exposure, they hope that something good comes – in particular, a job and a place to stay. Bob Clute wants to find work in construction or as a cook, he said.

Matt agrees. He sat around the campfire last week wishing for a job, even one that was just temporary. About an hour later, a man drove up and offered Matt money in exchange for helping him paint a deck. Matt jumped at the opportunity.

He hopes more come his way.

Other campsites in the area

Right now there are two homeless camps in the area battling the cold weather. Frankenfield’s camp includes himself and Matt as well as another homeless man, Lee James. Bob and Karen Clute live nearby. In the woods beyond, Frankenfield said that three campsites were deserted a few weeks ago, including one that left behind a stack of diapers, indicating that a young child traveled with the homeless people there.

Scattered around the area are other campsites with evidence of more homeless people, either past or present.

When the weather warms up, more homeless will travel south and some of those sites will become active again, said Frankenfield, who has spent four summers living in those woods.

“We always see more homeless in the summer,” he said.

Jaime Huddy, a Tega Cay resident, helped deliver some of the supplies to the homeless last week.

“It’s hard to see this, because it’s right here in your backyard,” she said.

As she stood outside among the homeless encampment it was beginning to rain. School had already been called off for students that day and sleet was expected to fall again any minute.

“It’s just so cold,” she said. “We’re so cold, just standing here right now. And we’re going to go home. They live here.”

For part II, click here.

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