A group’s vision to serve homeless and indigent people on a scale unseen in three counties starts with one home — its own.
Pathways Community Center, a Christian nonprofit that works with area churches and remnants of a Rock Hill homelessness study group from a decade ago, is buying a 38,000-square-foot building at 546 S. Cherry Road. A price wasn't given since the contract is still being finalized. The idea is to bring a half dozen or more public service groups under one roof.
“This is the first step,” said Charles Price, board chairman for Pathways. “Rock Hill has been looking at this for 10 years. It’s something that needs to be done.”
Pathways received a variance last week from the city of Rock Hill allowing The Haven Men’s Shelter, to join. The Haven had gotten the green light from the city in 2016 to build a group home on it's current site, Archive Street.
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Now, they’ll move to South Cherry Road. The facility will serve the tri-county area.
Jim Gill, chairman of the board at The Haven, said his dozen beds stay occupied. The move would probably double The Haven’s bed count right away. Eventually it could grow to 40 beds.
Those beds aren’t likely to go unused, either. The Haven has up to 20 people at a time on a rolling waiting list.
“With only 12 beds, we stay full,” Gill said.
The new site will accommodate more men and offer better service.
“It’s a single point of entry for an individual that comes in off the street,” Gill said. “We don’t have to send him across town to find the services he needs.”
A nonprofit, The Haven started 11 years ago and relies on donations and volunteer time from churches and individuals. The Haven offers a 90-day transitional program teaching homeless men interview and resume skills. The goal is employment and permanent housing.
All 12 men there now have jobs. Others will follow. Gill isn’t aware of another local men’s shelter like The Haven, which is why it serves York, Chester and Lancaster counties.
Building wasn't for sale
Those counties are booming with new homes and businesses.
“York County is growing,” Gill said. “The population is growing. The homeless population is growing too.”
That fact doesn’t escape the current property owner, especially after hearing the Pathways pitch.
“Their mission and their vision is an extremely worthy endeavor,” said Chad Simpson, property manager for the site his father, Baxter, bought three decades ago. “Ultimately we support that. We support what they’re doing.”
B.G. Simpson Sr. Family Limited Partnership owns the site at 546 S. Cherry Road. It was an elementary school until being shuttered in the desegregation era. Baxter Simpson took ownership in the early 1980s, renovated it and starting leasing space.
In three decades, the site has been home to churches, daycares, businesses, medical offices, a business college and other tenants. Current tenants include Renew Our Community, Emporium and Carolina Community Actions. All will remain at that site.
Others at that site are Rock Hill Community Theatre, House of Joy Childcare Center and a medical tenant. They will move.
Simpson said he’s working to help long-time tenants find new space. The building wasn’t for sale. Then Simpson and his father met with Pathways.
“We left that meeting, he and I, feeling that we were morally obligated to make this property available to this group,” Simpson said.
The site is surrounded on two sides by a cemetery, and by government offices on another. There are homes and businesses adjacent.
The city approval for The Haven came with conditions. It has restrictions on its hours and a 40-bed limit. The only access comes from Cherry Road. The property must be fenced.
A security guard has to on site at all times. Residents in adjacent neighborhoods must have the cell number for that guard. A community meeting is required to discuss security, fencing, lighting and other issues.
While other tenants will have to meet building code requirements, The Haven because its a group home is the only one needing a special approval from the city.
“There isn’t another decision by a public body that needs to be made,” said Katie Quinn, city spokesperson.
Pathways should close on the property by mid- to late summer. New tenants could begin moving in early next year.
Price said there are more than 40 area agencies offerings services to homeless or needy people. Eight or so will be at the new site, while others will have office space either for satellite work or to meet clients they then could take back to their main locations.
Some groups offer a hot meal. Some offer job training. Some offer educational resources.
“What we’re trying to do is coordinate their efforts,” he said.
Idea had to wait
Rock Hill leaders knew homelessness was an issue a decade ago. They formed a group to study options. Recession hit, Price said, and the idea had to wait. Last fall he was approached. Some remaining study group members and churches were looking to resurrect the plan.
Pathways is an independent organization, funded by local churches, groups and individuals. It could be three to six months before Pathways, which will own the new site pending the sale, knows which service organizations will locate there.
“We’re not sure how it will work,” Price said. “It’s the first time it’s been done in Rock Hill.”
A lack of details is nothing new, but Price doesn’t expect it to derail plans.
“God has just led us right along,” he said. “Everything has fallen into place.”
Simpson said he believes there’s a reason the deal is happening.
“Ultimately it’ll be something we’ll all be proud of, proud to have in our community,” he said. “We’re helping people.”
For Gill, what started just a year ago as a concept already has “kind of morphed into a legitimate goal.”
That will allow him to better meet the one his group had all along.
“That’s the end result, taking care of these people that we have in our community,” Gill said.