Finding refuge at the new community shelter
By BRENDA HARRISON Editor of The News Journal Florence, S.C.
More than 300 different homeless people have found protection from the elements during the five months since the opening of the Courtney McGinnis Graham Community Shelter on South Church Street.
Even though its been a relatively mild winter, the men and women’s sections have been full most nights since opening on Oct. 17, said its director Brock Spivey. However, the family side, which offers sleeping quarters for up to three families, has not always been filled.
This overnight shelter for the homeless is equipped to serve 12 men, 10 women, as well as three families. If the temperatures dip below 40 degrees, the shelter puts out cots to accommodate more, Brock said.
When freezing temperatures are predicted, the shelter coordinates with local churches and Family Promise to transport people to a church site if needed. Fortunately, there were not many nights of extremely cold weather, Brock noted.
Guests are offered a bed for seven days in a 30-day period. If they agree to meet with the shelter’s caseworker and become active in case management they may stay longer.
Caseworker Wanda Vereen works with the guests to set up a plan to determine areas they need to work on.
Brock likens the community shelter’s work to that of a hospital emergency room. The first step is to diagnose the problem that causes the homelessness and then try to find the right agencies that can assist, he said. Those they can’t help, they refer to other helping organizations, such as Lighthouse, Echo and Mercy Medicine.
“Sometimes they just need someone to tell them the steps they need to take and steer them in the right direction,” Brock said, adding “and sometimes housing may not be the number one issue, such as mental illness. We try to identify the root cause of the situation they’re in.”
When possible, the shelter staff encourages guests to enter the program at the House of Hope’s women or men’s shelter. “A win for us is not just a bed and a meal.
A win is when someone is able to take that next step in finding the help they need,” Brock stressed.
Brock said his experiences ministering to the homeless the last five months have just reaffirmed what he always knew – that people are people,
“They’re just like us.”
The eye opener is just how close people live from being homeless, he added. Homelessness crosses all boundaries.
The Florence community has been great in the way it has rallied behind the shelter, he continued. The situation of homelessness is something people can really get behind.
“Our name is true to what it is because the community has made this community shelter possible,” Brock noted.
Admitting there are always challenges when working with people, the director said the shelter has been running smoothly.
“We’re just trying to do our best to meet the needs of our guests,” he said.
People are admitted in the afternoons, beginning at 4 p.m. They are offered a shower and then given scrubs to wear while staff washes the clothes they are wearing. They get an evening meal and breakfast in the morning. Those who are working with the case manager are allowed to stay in during the day and are served lunch. The rest leave after breakfast – some have jobs to go to.
Security is a big deal, Brock said. Those who appear intoxicated or high on drugs are tested, and if positive are not allowed to stay. However, they are told if they come back sober or clean from drugs, they will be welcome. Many do come back, he added.
Brock said the guests are served hot meals and the shelter tries to make sure they are healthy and hardy. They have been blessed that most of the food is donated, said the director. People donate leftovers from local events, as well as canned goods from food drives.
“The Lord provides always,” he stated. “People are very generous.
Brock said the prepared food is really appreciated because it makes it easier on the staff.
To any group looking for a project, he said their biggest needs are cleaning and laundry supplies. The staff cleans everyday, washing bed sheets, towels, and clothes guests wear, and mopping floors, so those effort require lots of supplies. Also, paper goods including paper towels, toilet paper and trash bags are needed, as well as paper plates and plastic utensils.
If interested in their current needs, he suggests going to the Facebook page, Courtney McGinnis Graham Community Shelter, where current needs are listed.