Students to spotlight plight of the homeless

Week of events planned

Winthrop University students and anti-poverty advocates across Rock Hill will spotlight local homeless issues during an upcoming national hunger and homelessness awareness week.

The event kicks off Sunday at 5:30 p.m. with a vigil at City Hall put on by the Catawba Area Coalition for the Homeless. Afterward, Winthrop students will sleep outside in cardboard boxes on the lawn in front of the Dinkins student center.

"One thing can happen to you, and you can be in that same position," said Al Barron, a junior from Georgetown who will take part in the sleepout. "People just see them and say, 'Oh, that's a bum.' There's a lot of things wrong with the perception."

Other events next week include:

• A homeless panel featuring professors and students is planned for 6:30 p.m. Monday in Room 212 of the Kinard building.

• An invitation-only luncheon is planned for Wednesday at Oakland Baptist Church.

• A Thanksgiving feeding will be held at Redeeming Life Ministries on South Jones Avenue at 11 a.m. Saturday.

This year's week of events coincides with an upcoming initiative to help the homeless get through the winter months in York County.

"There's been a whole lot going on this year," said Jennifer Coye, executive director of Interfaith Hospitality Network. "Two years ago, I think there were like two people at the vigil. Last year, there were 50."

Advocates are close to announcing plans for what they call a "warming center," a temporary shelter that will open during particularly frigid nights.

The center would help to ease the burden on The Haven, a 14-bed shelter that operates on Archive Street. Haven organizers have tried for months to find a permanent location with room for more beds and social service programs, but a suitable site has yet to materialize.

With colder weather approaching, the warming center is viewed as a stopgap solution.

A survey conducted in February found 375 homeless people in York County, up from 186 last year. Volunteers searched beneath highway bridges, walked through woods and visited local aid agencies to determine the numbers.