October 28, 2008

Rock Hill winter shelter kicks off 2nd year

An emergency winter shelter began its second year on Monday, hoping to rescue local homeless men from cold temperatures and an even colder job market that has put many out of work.

Organizers expect turnout to increase as word of the center's opening spreads around town. Other emergency shelters around York County already are fielding more calls than usual from people who need help.

"All the agencies I've talked to have had to turn people away, and it's not even November," said Lora Holladay, homeless services coordinator for the local United Way. "They're turning away people who have been evicted, a lot of first-time homeless."

The slowdown in the housing market partly is to blame, Holladay said. Until this year, many men were able to find work as day laborers, painting or doing odd jobs for contractors.

With home construction at a virtual standstill, that option has dried up. New housing starts in York County are down by almost half from just two years ago, The Herald reported Sunday.

"There's a quiet storm brewing of folks who are going to find themselves in this situation for the first time," Holladay said.

The shelter opened last winter at the Salvation Army headquarters on Rock Hill's Charlotte Avenue, in a basement once used as storage for donated Christmas toys.

Over 53 nights, the shelter served 424 people, including 79 unduplicated clients. Men were given hot meals and clothes when available.

In recent days, volunteers posted signs around town advertising the center's opening.

They also worked with the Rock Hill Police Department and the York County Sheriff's Office to spread the word.

Often last year, officers found homeless people in stores or on the streets and gave them rides to the center.

'Ready to step in'

The center opens on nights when forecasts call for temperatures below 38 degrees.

Organizers check the weather reports every week and make decisions a few days in advance.

"We're ready to step in and start doing what needs to be done, helping people to keep warm," said Maj. Cedric McClure of the local Salvation Army branch. "Tomorrow's going to be colder, and the next night just as cold. If we don't see them tonight, we'll definitely see them tomorrow night."

City and county officials pitched in last year to prepare the basement for overnight stays. York County leaders committed $23,000 to pay for a security guard and help with the power bills. Soon after, the city of Rock Hill sent maintenance crews to install bathrooms.

Want to help

Similar to last year, organizers hope to get individuals and churches to take part in a nightly meal rotation for the emergency winter shelter that opened Monday.

Men’s coats, small toiletries, snack items and twin-sized bed linens are also needed.

To get involved, call Maj. Cedric McClure of the Salvation Army at 324-5141 or the United Way’s Lora Holladay at 324-2735.

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