Several community groups and volunteers added services Thursday and will continue today as temperatures that dipped into single digits pushed the homeless and others to seek shelter against potentially life-threatening exposure.
Rock Hill’s three emergency shelters were full, said Rebecca Melton, president of the United Way of York County, and have been for several days since the ice storm and now severe cold have made outdoor survival difficult and dangerous.
At Renew Our Community – the nonprofit organization in downtown Rock Hill that serves many of York County’s homeless and chronic poor with vocational and social services – hours were extended so the homeless and near-homeless had a warm place to stay as temperatures barely reached 25 degrees Thursday.
“We offer transportation to and from the shelters so people don’t have to walk or ride bicycles from shelters to here,” said Iris Hubbard, director of ROC Central. “It is just too cold for people to be out in this weather. It could be dangerous.
“This could be the difference between someone freezing or staying alive.”
ROC offered coats to those in need and provided shuttle service to the Dorothy Day Soup Kitchen for lunch. Volunteers brought food, coffee and more to ROC on Thursday to meet the larger demand of people who didn’t just come for social services, but to escape the cold for a few hours or even all day.
The Rev. Betty Mackey of Fort Mill and Jacqueline Carter of Rock Hill cooked and served food for ROC clients.
“The people here on a day that is so cold need the community to look out for them,” Carter said.
Bobby McClinton, 50, a ROC client, said that kind of help during the extreme cold could save people.
“This is really the one place where people know they can get out of the cold,” McClinton said.
Many ROC clients wore layers and layers of clothes – coats and hats, shirts and even two pairs of pants at a time – after spending hours in the cold overnight. Several clients spent all day at the center Thursday, as the cold was too brutal for even short walks to other service providers or other common spots for the homeless.
On their regular patrols this week, Rock Hill police are looking out for people who need to be brought in from the cold, department spokesman Mark Bollinger said. Other police departments in York, Chester and Lancaster counties also looked in regular gathering spots to make sure anyone who needed to could get inside during the cold snap.
Homeless advocates, including Christians Feed the Hungry ministry, spent Thursday visiting known homeless camps, delivering soup, wood, even toilet paper, to those who would not go to shelters or take an offer of a motel room for a couple of nights.
“There are people who exist out here in the cold,” said the Rev. Ronal King of Christians Feed the Hungry. “We can’t just make believe they are not out here.
“If we do that, those people might end up dead.”