FORT MILL — Less than a year ago, 22 people were identified as living on the streets of Fort Mill. Now, half of them have housing.
For a group of residents from Fort Mill and surrounding areas, that’s progress, but only halfway to their goal. Some homeless people are still living in a camp in the woods near Carowinds Boulevard. Others seek shelter wherever they can, including the bandstand in Confederate Park.
At a Jan. 16 community forum held at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Fort Mill, the local activists and others interested in making a difference discussed the progress made in 2013 and ideas for doing more this year. Among the major successes, they said is the presence of Renew Our Community, a Rock Hill-based organization that provides weekly transportation for Fort Mill’s homeless to ROC’s facility, where services are available. ROC provides food, showers, laundry services, government services, job search help and more.
Another organization, the Salvation Army, partnered with ROC to provide temporary employment for two of the Fort Mill residents ROC is assisting. Also, with the help of Rock Hill’s Keystone Substance Abuse Services, four people who were living in the woods are now in rehabilitation for substance abuse.
Kim Vinesett, director of Fort Mill-based Serving Our Neighbors Ministries, said by simply keeping homeless people out of jail and out of the hospital, York County is saving $15,000 every three months. However, Vinesett stressed that, “This has never been about saving money – it’s about saving people.”
Those in attendance nodded in agreement and some made a poignant plea to remember the mission is saving fellow human beings.
“It’s risky. It’s scary...But guess what? They have faces; they have names – just like us,” local pastor Derrick Bucy said.
He and his congregation at The Gathering, an independent church, have opened their arms and hearts to the homeless in the past few months by bringing them to Sunday services. Along with asking the congregation for donations of blankets and food, he also encouraged them to get to know the weekly visitors as people, he said.
ROC is looking to make improvements to its program and is looking for help, including drivers who are available regular hours as well as on short notice. Help with laundry is also needed. Just a few volunteers are doing between 10 and 50 loads every Thursday, ROC officials said.
As always, but especially during the winter, donations of blankets, coats, canned food, and toiletries are needed. Donations can be dropped off at 120 Elliott St. in Fort Mill from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.
Bruce McKagan of Fort Mill, co-founder of SON, said volunteers are needed to help homeless people create resumes and look for jobs. The call is also out to anyone with a job opening who wouldn’t discriminate against someone who was recently homeless.
Medical assistance is another urgent need, officials said. The groups are looking for physicians and clinics willing to assist with care, prescriptions and paperwork that can expedite medical care applications and claims.
“We have it easy,” McKagan said. “In Fort Mill, we’re lucky that it’s just 22 people, so let’s do everything we can for them.”
For more information on how to get involved, email firstname.lastname@example.org.