York County will never fully eradicate homelessness within its borders. But local officials have both the incentive and a plan to diminish it.
In 2009, Rock Hill and York County leaders drafted a 10-year master plan to address the problem of homelessness. The plan comprised a multi-pronged approach that ranged from educating the public about homelessness to increasing the inventory of local housing to provide transitional shelter for the homeless.
According to Lora Holladay, the United Way of York County’s community investment director, who was a key advocate for developing the 10-year plan, progress has been made since the plan was implemented. Unfortunately, with the downturn in the economy and the county’s proximity to the Charlotte metropolitan area, more homeless people have migrated to the area.
The United Way has received $1.2 million in grants to create more than 180 new housing units in the county, including residential units in Pilgrim’s Inn; mental health units at Keystone Substance Abuse Center and Catawba Mental Health. Housing First, a program that places homeless families in apartments or rental homes and pays their rent for a year, also is up and running.
The United Way operates two warming centers, one in partnership with Bethel United Methodist Church, the other, the Hope Street House, which serves 14 women and children full time. But Holladay now thinks two centers are not enough.
More shelters are needed to serve homeless people in the eastern part of the county, covering the Interstate 77 corridor that touches Fort Mill, Tega Cay and Lake Wylie, she said. In essence, the centers need to be established where the homeless population is.
Local officials know where the area homeless are because of their participation in the annual effort by the South Carolina Homeless Coalition to tally the state’s homeless. Starting on Jan. 24, volunteers searched in wooded areas and under bridges and overpasses to count the unsheltered homeless.
On the first night, they found 48 people, which Holladay said was the highest number she had seen in a single evening count. While the tally has not been completed, searchers have found about 200 unsheltered homeless people in the county in years past.
Ray Koterba, Rock Hill’s housing and neighborhood services director who co-chaired a homelessness steering committee with Holladay, learned a lot about the best ways to address homelessness during a trip to Minneapolis, Minn. As a result of that trip, he said, organizers hired a consultant to write grant proposals to raise money to expand services.
The immediate goal is to provide temporary shelter at warming centers when weather might threaten their safety. Ultimately, however, the goal is to provide stable shelter and then housing where they can stay long-term while they seek work, care for children or simply receive the services and support they need to remain in their homes.
The reasons behind homelessness are as varied as the people themselves. Many suffer from mental illness; some have substance abuse problems; some are fleeing abusive partners or parents; some are simply jobless and unable to afford housing.
But the goal in each case is to find them a home. And while that might seem a costly solution, it is the most practical in the end.
Homeless people are more likely to suffer from a variety of health problems, which often lands them in hospital emergency rooms, which results in a large public expenditure. They also are more likely to be victims of crime, another drain on public resources.
Caregivers have found that the most practical alternative is to place the homeless in a home or apartment. This not only provides some stability for homeless individuals and families, it also makes room in warming centers and other temporary shelters for those in immediate need of a bed, a meal and a roof over their heads.
We salute all those involved in trying to deal with this difficult problem. Despite the challenge, they are making progress and helping desperate people rebuild their lives.