Thieves target Rock Hill center that helps the needy

jmcfadden@heraldonline.comOctober 9, 2013 

Thieves shattered the glass at the back door of the Renew Our Community center on East White Street. Police suspect that when thieves shattered the glass, it blew outward instead of inside the center.

JMCFADDEN@HERALDONLINE.COM — Jonathan McFadden

— A homeless woman looking for a place to live, a mother looking for help paying her light bill and about a dozen other “clients” looking for jobs and shelter waited outside Wednesday morning after thieves broke into Rock Hill’s Renew Our Community center, carrying away computers, printers and a flat screen television.

At about 9 a.m., volunteers found pieces of glass showering the ground outside the center and a large hole in the back door of the East White Street building that once housed the Good Kia dealership.

Police believe that when thieves broke into the business, the debris blew outward, said Rock Hill Police Executive Officer Mark Bollinger. Officers dusted for fingerprints and snapped photos, but do not have information on suspects.

The vandals took at least four computers, a printer and a flat screen television, items donated to the center that helps clients find and apply for jobs and stay occupied during the day, said Iris Hubbard, the center’s director.

The Renew Our Community center, which opened in November 2011, is a nonprofit community center that serves the homeless and downtrodden by giving them access to the Internet, transportation, education, restrooms and shelter throughout the day.

About 40 volunteers also help clients find jobs and fill out résumés, Hubbard said. Down-and-out residents can receive help paying their bills, and the center partners with other local agencies to provide access to drug treatment programs and help with housing.

The burglary is “a sign of the times,” she said. “This is the population we serve. Our clients and those who come here are good people.”

The main concern, she said, was for clients who waited outside in chilly weather while police forensics experts searched for clues.

One of those waiting was 62-year-old Janice Hemphill. Wednesday was her first time seeking help from the center. On disability and needing to bolster her job skills, she went to the center hoping volunteers might help her with housing and employment.

She stood outside bundled in a pink jacket for more than an hour, she said.

“It’s amazing people are out here trying to get help” while others are stealing, Hemphill said. “It’s hard getting help.”

Shannon Steele, mother of 3-year-old Christian Steele, doesn’t use the center’s services often, she said. On Wednesday, she and her son went to get help with the light bill. She wasn’t expecting a delay.

About the thefts, the 34-year-old Steele said: “It’s bad.”

Lawrence Stevenson, 25, considers himself the center’s bodyguard. He said he’s “run off” from the center several people who were “acting a fool.”

The center gives him “peace of mind,” he said, “and a place to go.” It’s also helped him find work “here and there.”

The center did not reopen Wednesday because police did not leave the center until about midday, said Renew Our Community center founder and adoption attorney Dale Dove. A company replaced the broken glass and volunteers spent the rest of the day cleaning up to prepare to reopen at 10 a.m. Thursday.

Last month, the center helped 1,008 clients, Hubbard said. In August, it helped about 800. Thieves twice targeted the ROC last year, stealing a flat-screen television the first time and only damaging a door the second time.

Hubbard said she did not believe Wednesday’s culprits were any of the center’s “regulars.”

But, even if they were, Dove said it doesn’t mean they’re “bad people.”

“These are desperate times; this is an unsettled time for our country and world right now,” he said. “I’m not making excuses for people, but these are the very people...the ROC is set up to help.”

The thefts, he said, won’t “detract or take away from the mission of helping people...in crisis.” Instead, it points to chronic issues, such as unemployment and drug addiction.

He said it’s possible the thieves who stole from the ROC were looking for valuables so they can buy drugs or find a way to make money.

He wants the suspects to “own up” to what they did. But, he also hopes they reach out to the center for “legitimate help.”

“There’s a better way than stealing from someone,” he said. “We’re there to help people – come and let us try to help you.”

Dove is calling on the community to come up with “real solutions” that will help people get and keep jobs.

York County’s unemployment rate in August was 8.2 percent, down from 8.5 percent in July. The statewide average during those months was 8.1, above the national rate of 7 percent.

Incarceration, he said, isn’t the answer and help for York County won’t come from Washington, D.C., or Columbia. It will come “from within.”

“If we don’t help people who are vulnerable, people who really struggle, you’ll keep having stuff like this,” he said. “Just because they made a mistake one time doesn’t mean they’re bad people. We need to do more in our community and not just keep locking people up.”

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