ROCK HILL — To a small crowd outside Rock Hill's City Hall Sunday night, the message was clear: Everyone needs food and a home.
During an annual vigil to kick off National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, adults and children gathered to pray, sing and light candles to help more people learn about the plight of the homeless in our communities.
The Catawba Area Coalition for the Homeless hosted the Sunday night vigil with a mission -- to stamp out homelessness one person at time. To achieve that mission, they need the help of people throughout the community.
Jennifer Coye, president of the group, said people often don't want to acknowledge homelessness and hunger because it's not something they see every day.
"There are so many people in our community who are homeless and close to homeless. It's great to take this opportunity to bring awareness to situations in our communities," Coye said. "It affects so many different populations of people, from veterans returning from war to full families. We don't want it to be forgotten."
Last year, a point-in-time count identified 236 persons in York County as living in emergency shelters, transitional housing or in the outdoors, according to United Way of York County.
During the 2008-2009 school year, more than 400 students in York County schools were documented as lacking a fixed, regular nighttime residence. Many of the students doubled up with other families, finding makeshift housing or living in hotels.
To combat this problem, Rock Hill and York County's 10-year plan to end homelessness calls for moving homeless people into transitional housing and providing them with job training, addiction counseling and medical services while they work toward self-sustainability.
At the vigil, candles were lit for the individual populations of homeless, including those with substance abuse problems, and others battling HIV.
Those groups, officials say, account for a large percentage of the homeless. At least 30 percent of those without permanent homes suffer from substance abuse problems. Twenty percent of those with HIV/AIDS treated by Catawba Care Coalition, an HIV organization in York County, do not have fixed housing, said executive director Anita Case.
Half of their clients are living in poverty, she said.
"Housing is the number oneneed for many people living with HIV," Case said. "I've heard it many times, 'housing is health care.'"
Not having to worry about housing issues allows people to focus on their health care routines, she said, which is why Catawba Care works with its clients to help them find a place to live.
One client, she said, spent 40 years living in group homes and had never managed his own money. Six years ago, with the help of Catawba Care, he was taught the skills he needed to manage his own finances and become a renter.
Many at the vigil would like to see a large, diverse group of county residents to join the effort to stamp out homelessness. There is plenty of work for volunteers to do.
"We need to continue to work to find homes for all our people, and food for everyone at the soup kitchen," said Beverly Carroll of Dorothy Day Soup Kitchen in Rock Hill. She was honored at the vigil with an Eternal Light award for her work in the community.
To wrap-up the awareness week, Coye said they provide about 100 families and more than 300 senior citizens with boxes of food. Community members can help by donating canned Thanksgiving-themed food, she said.
Want to help?
Drop off canned foods at Family Promise, located at 404 E. Main St., Rock Hill.
Volunteers are needed to deliver food Saturday. For more information, call Jennifer Coye of Family Promise of York County at 803-329-2456.
Kimberly Dick 803-329-4082