Opinion

Warming center welcome

Rock Hill's Salvation Army warming center, which could open within two weeks, will be a welcome refuge for the homeless as the worst part of winter sets in. But local advocates for the homeless know this is only a stopgap solution and that the effort to establish a permanent homeless shelter must continue.

The warming center will be housed in the basement of the Salvation Army headquarters on Charlotte Avenue. It could hold up to 48 people overnight at a cost of $7.60 per person. The center will be open on nights when forecasts call for below-freezing temperatures.

York County has approved up to $23,000 to help pay for security and other costs at the center, which would cover about 60 days spanning the coldest months of winter. The city of Rock Hill will provide maintenance crews to install bathrooms in the center.

The warming center meets an immediate need -- a shelter from the cold for desperate people with few other alternatives. The Haven, a shelter established last year as another temporary answer to homelessness, also provides a refuge but has only 21 beds crammed into a small house.

A countywide survey taken earlier this year tallied a homeless population of 375. Those making the count realized at the time that the population can fluctuate, and the survey was only a snapshot of what the local number of homeless might be.

Nonetheless, it is sobering to realize that on any given day, nearly 400 people live in the county with no roof over their heads. This no doubt is a byproduct of growth and the county's proximity to a major metropolitan area, and the homeless population almost certainly will increase in the months ahead.

Thankfully, members of the city and county councils, charitable organizations in the community and a group of activists focused solely on this problem have continued to agitate for a homeless shelter. While the original goal was to buy an existing building to house the shelter, the new thinking is to build a shelter from scratch and avoid the inevitable complaints that would arise from opening a shelter in a residential neighborhood.

Organizers also are planning beyond the goal of simply providing shelter for the homeless. They also hope to offer services that will help homeless people and others to develop skills needed to get jobs and become more self-reliant.

We applaud all those who have continued to pursue solutions to this growing problem, and we are grateful to local Salvation Army officials for the use of their headquarters as a warming center. It is reassuring to know that, when the coldest days of winter arrive, the homeless will have somewhere to go for a bed and a hot meal.

IN SUMMARY

Opening of warming center at Salvation Army headquarters is a good interim step.

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