Editor’s note: This is the Part IX of an on-going series examining the reality of homeless people in Fort Mill.
On Thursday morning of last week, Jerry Bryant sat on a bench facing Main Street. Beside him was a suitcase that holds everything he owns. He rolls it behind him wherever he goes because Bryant, who has been homeless off and on for more than 10 years, has nowhere to store his personal items.
Bryant was the first homeless person living in Fort Mill to use a new transportation service set up by Renew Our Community, a community service group in Rock Hill that aims to help York County’s homeless and underprivileged community.
Thursday was the first of planned weekly trips around Fort Mill to pick up the homeless in the community and take them to services at ROC Central, a one-stop shop where they can get assistance including clothing, substance abuse counseling and computer skills training.
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Bryant wasn’t sure exactly what ROC could do for him, but he was willing to find out. He sleeps in downtown Fort Mill at night, typically on a concrete floor with little more than a blanket to cover him.
He wondered if ROC could help him find somewhere more comfortable to sleep — but in the next breath, Bryant admitted that leaving Fort Mill to live somewhere else didn’t really appeal to him.
“They said they could help me find somewhere to stay,” Bryant said. “I’m not sure what I want.”
When he arrived at ROC Central, Bryant had a hard time articulating exactly what his needs were. He left with some new clothing and plans to return again next week.
The ROC van also made a stop off Carowinds Boulevard at a homeless camp that had six residents, though the number changes almost weekly as some people move on and others move in.
Karen Clute and Lester “Skip” Frankenfield, two long-time residents of the homeless camp, took advantage of the transportation service. Frankenfield has lived in the woods for more than four years. Clute and her husband, Bob, have lived there for two years.
The van’s first stop was at the Dorothy Day Soup Kitchen in Rock Hill for lunch before stopping at ROC Central. The final stop of the day was The Salvation Army, with a quick stop in between to pick up Frankenfield’s EBT card, which gives him access to food stamp benefits. He hasn’t been able to pick it up this month because he didn’t have transportation.
Until Thursday, transportation was a big issue for Fort Mill’s homeless population. Services available to them are primarily in Rock Hill. Without transportation into Rock Hill, those services were largely useless.
That’s where ROC stepped in.
Clute’s goal for the day was simple — she needed new clothes. At The Salvation Army, she was able to tell them her sizes and needs and place an order for clothes. The order will be sent to the Salvation Army warehouse, where clothing will be selected for Clute and ready next week when she returns.
Frankenfield and Bryant also receive a few pieces of clothing from ROC Central and placed an order for more at The Salvation Army.
Frankenfield started the day out unsure how ROC could help him. Instead, he was thinking about how he might be able to help them. He hoped to volunteer there, to help other homeless people.
“I hope it can be a reciprocating thing. They help me and I help them,” Frankenfield said. “Who can help the homeless better than someone who is homeless?”
Frankenfield made plans to return to ROC Central on Saturday for volunteer training. ROC officials helped set up transportation for him to get there.
The van service will continue weekly, though ROC officials said they hope to eventually establish a ROC office in Fort Mill that can more easily serve the community.
Frankenfield said that initially the idea of utilizing the transportation service was overwhelming. “It’s hard for a homeless person to trust somebody,” he said.
But the effort made by ROC to help him and the other homeless people in Fort Mill was “more than I’ve seen anybody do in a long time,” he said. “Reaching out a hand. That’s doing something.”
This is just the beginning, said Bruce McKagan, an ROC board member.
Over time, he hopes to encourage more of the homeless men and women to take advantage of the service, as well as identify where other homeless people live in the community.
“We just started it today,” McKagan said. “We haven’t ended it.”