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A snapshot of homelessness in Kershaw County

Posted: July 27, 2014 3:45 p.m.
Updated: July 28, 2014 5:00 a.m.
Tenell Felder/C-I

New Day on Mill is part of the United Way of Kershaw County’s efforts to end homelessness in Kershaw County. The cottages are part of a transitional housing program for women and children who are homeless, offering a place to live for three to six months while they work to overcome obstacles to becoming self-sufficient community members.

A report profiling homelessness in the Midlands was recently released by the United Way of the Midlands and the Midlands Area Consortium for the Homeless. The report focused on poverty, homeless demographics and homeless services in the 14 counties that make up the Midlands, including Kershaw County.

United Way of Kershaw County (UWKC) President Donny Supplee currently serves on the South Carolina Coalition board for homelessness and UWKC Housing Coordinator Marie Sheheen serves on the Midland’s Area Consortium for the Homeless.

In the 2014 Regional Profile on Homelessness, the data shows a “Point-in-Time” count of homeless people in each county. The count took place Jan. 23.

On that night, the report states, there were no homeless persons in emergency shelters in Kershaw County. The report stated there were 10 people in transitional housing and 27 unsheltered homeless persons, for a total of 37.

According to their own count, however, Supplee and Sheheen said there were closer to 50 homeless or in-transition people that night. They said they did not know why there is a discrepancy with the Midlands report.

Sheheen organized the count for Kershaw County working with police officers and others to collect the needed information. The counts are required so that agencies can receive federal funding for housing programs such as New Day on Mill, which provides transitional housing for women.

“Annually, we do a count of people who are homeless. It’s a national count with Housing and Urban Development, our major funding source for New Day on Mill,” Supplee said. “(Marie) helps to pull together policemen, volunteers and different folks who will do the count. Our police officers kind of already know where the homeless are staying. For a rural county, we have done a pretty good job of counting our homeless.”

Supplee stressed that the data from the count is only a one-night snap shot, and that on any following night there could be more or fewer homeless people who will agree to participate in the survey.

Supplee said the highest count in Kershaw County so far was six years ago, with 106 persons. The Regional Profile on Homelessness reports that the number of homeless persons in the Midlands has decreased this year following a steady rise since 2009. While Supplee is happy about the progress that has been made, he also says that it is not acceptable to have anyone living on the streets.

 The United Way of Kershaw County and its partner agencies are working to reduce, and eventually eliminate, homelessness in the county.

“There are some people who might argue with us and say ‘that’s unrealistic and you will never be able to reach everybody.’ My explanation to that is that as far as it’s possible for us to provide the service we want to be able to feed the hungry and to serve the homeless …. You have to have a dream to be able to achieve that dream,” Supplee said.

In addition to the United Way’s three national goals (education, income and health), the UWKC has adopted a special focus on homelessness within the county -- a focus headed by Sheheen.

“We have a Hunger and Homeless Care Council and we have a big goal of ending hunger and homelessness by 2018. We started in 2008 and we have made a lot of progress. We’ve got New Day on Mill (for women and children), the two houses for transitional housing for men, and we will soon have another house that we hope to keep four (people) in. We are starting to work on that,” Sheheen said.

According to the regional profile, it is difficult to break the cycle of homelessness because a majority of housing is too expensive for those on low income to afford. Sheheen has seen this obstacle first hand.

“We need more affordable housing,” she said. “For example, we see people in here who are disabled. Some of them do not get a check, some of them do, but its only $700 a month. They cannot pay rent and pay utilities with that amount of money.”

Sheheen also noted that it can be a long wait for affordable housing.

“The subsidized housing that we have in Kershaw County has a long waiting list. So even though we tell people to get on those lists, it might be two years before an opening comes up, so they are out there struggling,” Sheheen said.

The profile reported that approximately 40 percent of those who are homeless suffer from mental illness and struggle with alcohol and drug abuse. Supplee said there are more challenges in assisting that group.

“We continue to serve them; they are not homeless because they are problem-free,” he said. “They are coming to us with those problems and they haven’t just gotten into those problems over night. It has been a lifestyle for them, so why would we expect that in a day, or three days, or two weeks that we could somehow change them. It’s going to be a process.

“We have to be the ones that have to have the ability to show mercy.”


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