The pews of the Salvation Army in Rock Hill were lit up by the glow of swaying candles as families sang and clapped to gospel music during a vigil Sunday night.
The event was the first of several in York County organized by the Catawba Area Coalition for the Homeless in recognition of National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, which runs until Nov. 23.
The coalition serves York, Lancaster and Chester counties and advocates for affordable housing. Throughout the week, the coalition will be hosting other events, such as a winter coat giveaway in Rock Hill and prepping family food boxes in time for Thanksgiving.
“It’s a blessing to know people in the community care about the plight of the homeless,” said Carol Harvey, the vigil emcee and chair of the coalition. Harvey also works as an account manager for the city of Rock Hill.
The event featured rousing live music from several groups, including the Mt. Holly Youth Praise Band and the Rock Hill Concert Choir.
Harvey said she hopes the event also will help spur the community to action by shedding light on an expanding but sometimes hidden issue.
“A lot of times we don’t see it,” said Courtney Kimball, a teacher at Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte. Kimball attended the vigil with her husband and two children as a way to show support for the community. “This is an issue that’s at our doorstep.”
The Kimballs got involved with Family Promise of York County through their local church. Family Promise is a local nonprofit that is a member of the coalition and dedicated to combating family homelessness.
Jennifer Coye, executive director of Family Promise, said that even though homelessness isn’t as immediately apparent in suburban and rural areas as it is in metropolitan regions, the problem is still real – and growing.
“Family homelessness is the fastest growing segment of the homeless population,” said Coye. “We’re hearing every day of families in the woods.” She also pointed to homeless shelters that are increasingly filled to capacity and families that slip between the cracks with nowhere to stay.
Speaker Ray Koterba also focused on family homelessness in his keynote speech, giving thanks to the several agencies that provide the homeless with support and drive continuing efforts to address the problem.
“Homelessness has always been and I’m afraid homelessness will always be,” said Koterba, who formerly served as Rock Hill’s housing and neighborhood services director.
Koterba worked closely to devise the city and county’s plan to combat homelessness. “It’s so hard to get people off their easy chairs to really realize there’s an epidemic in this country.”
Koterba said the key is to go past the indifference and inspire a whole community to take part in dealing with an issue that will likely remain an issue.
“So many of us are comfortable with saying, ‘let someone else do it,’” he said. “There’s so much more the rest of us can do.”