Mary Baker has been providing meals and snacks to Donnie Bowen, a homeless man living in downtown Fort Mill, for nearly eight years through her Serving Meals Ministry.
On her visits around Main Street recently to drop off meals, Baker said she noticed a disturbing new trend. Bowen is no longer alone. Joining him in the downtown area are at least five other homeless men and women. They wander the downtown area throughout the day, around Spratt Street, Main Street, and in and around Tom Hall Street.
Sometimes alone, sometimes in pairs.
Bowen often sits on a bench on Main Street chatting with another homeless man, Jerry Bryant, who has lived in Fort Mill off and on for more than six years. Pamela Landires, whom the Fort Mill Times reported on several weeks ago, said that she often sits outside Hardee’s hoping someone will offer to buy her something to eat.
Often, several homeless people will congregate outside a gas station near Main Street. They talk, Landires said. Bowen will often share tips with them about where they can hang out without getting “hassled by the police,” Landires has said.
“It’s really surprising,” Baker said. “All of a sudden, it’s like they came out of the woodwork. They just don’t have anywhere to go.”
Baker wants to extend help to all of them, she said, but there are challenges. Feeding six people is more costly and time consuming than feeding one, she said, and Serving Meals Ministry needs more volunteers to get the job done.
Another challenge is delivering the food. It’s hard to deliver meals to people who are transient, she said.
“There has to be a meeting place,” she said. “A time and a place where they come to us and we’re prepared to serve them.”
The challenges have increased Baker’s resolve that Fort Mill needs a center for the homeless and needy to gather.
“It’s the same old, same old story. If we had a meeting place, if we had a center, we could take them beyond where they are now, if they are willing to go. We could help them physically and emotionally, provide food and toiletries, clothing, and we might even be able to get the word out if there was a job opening,” Baker said.
Bruce McKagan, a board member for Renew Our Community, said that because Fort Mill doesn’t have a local center to provide services to the homeless, he believes the solution is to bring the homeless to ROC, a Rock Hill-based community assistance group.
At a community meeting scheduled for Thursday night at 7 p.m. at Grace Presbyterian Church, McKagan and ROC founder Dale Dove plan to meet with community organizations that provide services for the homeless, including the United Way, Keystone, and homeless shelters in the county, to create a plan for busing the homeless from Fort Mill to ROC for services.
At ROC, the homeless can get help with anything from job searches to alcohol and drug abuse issues to signing up for government assistance.
‘Wherever there are currently homeless, we will work with everyone we can who knows where they are, and we’ll go out, establish a schedule, and bring them in,” McKagan said. “Because we’ve got them, so now we need to help them.”