Warming center could open soon at Salvation Army site

The push for an emergency winter shelter in Rock Hill cleared one of its final hurdles Monday, leaving what supporters hope is just enough time to get it open before cold weather returns.

Barring delays, organizers hope the so-called warming center can make its debut within two weeks in the basement of the Salvation Army headquarters on Charlotte Avenue. The final hurdle is approval from the Salvation Army's parent offices in Charlotte and Atlanta, a step that's expected in the next few days.

Plans for the center generated little discussion and earned unanimous backing at Monday night's City Council meeting, possibly because the city wasn't being asked to commit any money. Instead, city maintenance crews will be sent to install bathrooms in the basement.

But a deeper reason behind the harmony, advocates say, is that homelessness has become a well-documented issue around Rock Hill, to the point that even government spendthrifts understand the need to address it.

"Because we've done so much work over the last couple of years, it's a subject a lot of folks are more familiar with," said Kim Keel, director of the United Way of York County. "It's as if we're not starting from ground zero. We got to the point of awareness a long time ago."

The center, which could hold up to 48 people, will open on nights when forecasts call for below-freezing temperatures. It is viewed as a temporary solution while the search continues for a permanent shelter that could provide beds as well as space for one-stop social services.

Last week, York County leaders approved up to $23,000 to help pay for security and other costs at the center. The money would cover about 60 days of operation, and the county is paying only for the days when the center would be open.

With support now in hand, anti-poverty advocates are already beginning to chart their next steps. At Monday's meeting, Councilman John Gettys urged the city to explore opening some type of job training and workforce education center aimed at helping homeless people and others develop skills needed to find decent-paying jobs.

That conversation is expected to take place early next year. For now, the focus is on getting the warming center ready by the time chilly temperatures arrive in earnest.

"It's a nice step forward," said Mayor Doug Echols.