Rock Hill shelter sees rise in need as homeless seek warmth at ‘coldest time of year’

One Rock Hill man’s 2018 New Year’s resolution is to move somewhere warmer.

He hopes to move to Houston in January. But for now, Robert Britt is finding shelter at the Men’s Warming Center at Bethel United Methodist.

Britt said he doesn’t usually let himself depend on other people, but he’s grateful to have somewhere warm to sleep.

Temperatures in Rock Hill will drop to 20 degrees Sunday night, but feel more like 11 degrees, according to the weather forecast.

Britt came to the shelter Friday night for dinner and a bed.

“It’s cold outside, and I don’t want to be outside,” he said.

If he wasn’t at the shelter, he’d have to sleep at a friend’s house or somewhere less appealing, he said.

But he hopes moving to Houston will be a way to start again, a way to help himself and help others.

“I’m going out to Houston to help rebuild,” Britt said. “Restart my life over. That’s why I’m going out to Houston. It’s a good opportunity, and to be able to serve and help.”

Emily Sutton, pastor for Bethel United Methodist Church for six years, said the number of men staying at the shelter has dramatically increased since the shelter opened a decade ago.

The first night the shelter opened, six or eight men came, Sutton said.

This year, 31 men slept at the shelter the first night it opened in November. And Thursday night, 56 men stayed at the warming center.

The Men’s Warming Center is open Nov. 12 to April 1. Many men stay at Bethel, and the church has opened several overflow sites with involvement from other churches, including Park Baptist and Harmony Baptist.

The shelter always needs more volunteers and donations, Sutton said.

“We need cots, something for them to sleep on,” she said. “As we have doubled and increased in the number, we have a greater need for more bedding.”

It’s too cold for the men to sleep outside, and Sutton said Bethel hasn’t been turning anyone away, even when they run out of cots. Men have been sleeping on concrete floors if they have to, just to stay in the warmth.

A man at the shelter, who preferred not to give his name, said he’s been in Rock Hill for two years and would be “in the woods, sleeping in the dirt,” if the shelter wasn’t open.

Sutton said the shelter spends $1,500 for a security guard to staff the facility each week. The two overflow sites cost an additional $3,000, she said.

Sutton said the shelter relies on donations and volunteers.

“We have an opportunity for people to just come and sit and just speak with and love on the folks who maybe don’t receive a smile every day, who don’t feel loved by their community,” she said. “And what a great way for our community to just surround one another, especially during the coldest time of the year.”

Britt said this is the second time he’s been given the opportunity to change his life and move to Houston, and he’s not going to miss it.

“I could stay in Rock Hill if I wanted to, but the opportunity came up twice. I don’t believe in three strikes,” he said. “If I get the basketball in my hand a second time, I’m going to slam dunk it. The third time, I might not get the opportunity.”

Hannah Smoot: 803-329-4068

Want to donate or volunteer?

Donations can be dropped off at Bethel United Methodist 6-7:30 p.m. any day. Donors are asked to call ahead at 803-327-4481.

Visit the Men’s Warming Center at bethelumcrockhill.org/mens-shelter.aspx.