Warming center good step for homeless, but more needed, says Miracle Hill worker

Before he leaves for work every day, Ken Kelly stuffs a handful of Chick-fil-A and McDonald's gift cards into his pocket. He used to offer homeless people rides to nearby shelters. Now, he offers them lunch.

Kelly, who works for a Greenville-based nonprofit shelter provider called Miracle Hill, finds that what the homeless need most is contact with people who care about them.

Miracle Hill manages shelters in Greenville, Spartanburg and Cherokee County. Kelly shared his experiences at a luncheon in Rock Hill on Wednesday. Afterward, he spoke to The Herald.

Q. What are some of the biggest misconceptions about homelessness and shelters?

A. "It really doesn't help homeless people to give them money. I probably have enabled him to do something that he's going to regret even more -- abuse drugs and maybe wind up in jail, or get deeper into his addiction.

"The money almost always goes toward their dysfunctional habits. A better thing to do is help them get something to eat, see if you can help them get into a shelter."

Q. What advice do you give to folks in York County about starting up a permanent men's shelter?

A. "It's pretty easy to get a room full of social workers who are passionate about solving this problem. But we really don't have the capability of making it happen. One of the challenges is getting the decision-makers, the people of influence, into that room -- the bankers and the accountants, the mayor and the people who can really help forward that process by getting behind it financially.

"They're starting a cold weather shelter (in Rock Hill), which is a wonderful thing. But you have to be real careful because it can sort of become an enabler to allow people to remain dysfunctional. You need that permanent shelter, as well, that can provide a place where people can really work on life change.

"What we really struggle with is ... getting too much emergency care on the front end. But we don't have affordable housing for people to transition back out in. And so we wind up with 200 people in shelters vying for 20 beds."

Q. What's the key to getting local churches involved?

A. "It really is about getting specific. And giving them some ownership. What we've asked them (churches) to do is mentor some of our guys and ladies coming out of the program.

"The mentor becomes that point of contact as they're trying to learn how to live a more healthy life. We provide the clients with a cell phone, and we ask the mentor and client to be in touch at least every other day."

Q. Has there been any talk of bringing the Miracle Hill program to Rock Hill?

A. "They asked me about that afterward. I said, 'Well, we're willing to talk.' The thing right now is we just have such a large amount on our plate. Realistically, I don't think we could do anything in the next three years.

"We're more than willing to lend our expertise; I just don't think we have the bandwidth to do it ourselves right now. If people want to build a shelter, and in three to five years, bring it under the Miracle Hill umbrella, we certainly would look at that."