The city of Spartanburg, United Way of the Piedmont, Spartanburg Interfaith Hospitality Network (SPIHN) and Catholic Charities of South Carolina unveiled the latest effort to help address homelessness within the city Wednesday — a new day center.
The day center pilot program, which will offer a variety of services as well as opportunities to meet with local service providers, is housed at the Northwest Community Center, 701 Saxon Ave.
“Most folks don’t have access to transportation as easily, so you need to have an access point for everything,” said Karl Rogozenski, the regional coordinator of Catholic Charities. “Most initiatives have that one coordinated place where folks can come, rather than saying, ‘Well, we’ll send you over here, and then over here and over here.’ They can come right into this one center and get what they need.”
At the Spartanburg Opportunity Center, as it is called, homeless people will be able to receive mail, store personal items, charge their phones, shower and wash clothes. The center will also offer a central point of contact for local service providers to make connections with and offer help to people in need.
“It’s kind of a one-stop shop. It’s also filling a gap in the community by providing services like showers and laundry and storage,” said Hannah Jarrett, director of financial stability strategy at United Way of the Piedmont. “From an organization perspective, it allows you to do outreach in one place instead of having to go all around.”
The center is set to open this July, using a few rooms of the city-owned Northwest Center, with an option for expansion in May 2020 to coincide with the targeted opening date for the new Dr. T.K. Gregg Center. At that point, the programs at the Northwest Center will be moved to T.K. Gregg, opening up the rest of that building for the Opportunity Center’s potential expansion.
The Opportunity Center will be open a few times a week when it begins.
Rogozenski said organizers hope to expand the services of the pilot program to include larger laundry and storage facilities and upgrading the shower areas so they offer more privacy. Other potential services include a salon, a community garden, a library, classrooms and a career center.
“In the meantime, it’s not really important that we have everything we need, we just need to provide services right away,” Rogozenski said. “We’re in the pilot program to see how this really works. The beauty of it is we have that year to shake it out, and then in 2020, if we’re gracious enough to get the facility (permanently), as multiple agencies sharing it, we can really convert this.”
The Spartanburg Opportunity Center will join other outreach centers in the Northside, including The Bridge at Green Street and Miracle Hill Ministries.
Steve Wise, missions minister at First Baptist Spartanburg, which operates The Bridge, said the new day center was a great and needed development. He said that while The Bridge does aid the homeless in Spartanburg, offering services such as financial stability navigation, clothing and food distribution and showers, it doesn’t focus exclusively on the homeless and can’t offer the services the Opportunity Center will with the same consistency, since The Bridge relies on volunteers.
“The opportunity center is targeted specifically at our homeless population, (and) we have a huge homelessness problem for a size of our city,” Wise said. “At The Bridge, they come to get help with food and clothes, but we don’t have anything targeted for the homeless.”
The day center checks off one of three goals of Spartanburg’s Homeless Task Force, which includes the Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce, the city, United Way of the Piedmont, SPHIN and Catholic Charities.
Tours were given of the new center Wednesday during a resource fair, which connected local homeless and at-risk people with about 30 organizations, including the Hub City Farmers’ Market, HOPE Ministries, ReGenesis, New Horizons and Birth Matters, offering a variety of social services like medical and housing assistance. Many organizations also offered giveaways at their tables, including snacks, soap, stuffed animals and water bottles. Others offered a sample of their services, like free blood pressure tests by Pelham Medical Center and books from Spartanburg County Public Libraries.
Free transport from the Spartanburg Soup Kitchen and the downtown headquarters library to the Northwest Center was provided so that anyone who wanted to attend the resource fair who didn’t have transportation could get there.
“Just talking with some of the people, they said, ‘Are they going to have this there?’ (and) ‘I need to find a place to live.’ And there’s housing agencies, there are social service agencies,” SPIHN Director Beth Rutherford said of the resource fair. “I’m looking forward to seeing all of these people get the help that they need.”
Those in attendance also received bagged lunches and essentials kits filled with personal care items and census cards, courtesy of the Carolina Panthers, and many received prizes such as SPARTA bus passes, gift cards for QT and Wal-Mart, T-shirts, and the grand prize, a bike with a helmet and backpack, also donated by the Carolina Panthers.
“I think it’s a good program,” said Otis Pullen, one of the attendees. “It’s very educational to a lot of people, as well as myself.”
Pullen said he learned about organizations offering legal help, mental health services and adult education opportunities Wednesday.
The event coincided with the Carolina Panthers’ Keep Pounding Day, where team representatives served lunch at the Spartanburg Soup Kitchen. The team also gave the soup kitchen a $1,000 check and a food donation.
“Our new owner David Tepper is really pushing us to be more involved in the community,” said Laura Garvey, purchasing manager for Delaware North, the team’s hospitality group. “We get a lot of support from the community for our team. We just want to show that we’re a part of the community, too, and give back.”
Lou Sartor, executive director of the Spartanburg Soup Kitchen, said that the kitchen’s guests had been talking about the event since it was announced.
“I think it gives them something to look forward to,” Sartor said. “It’s a great time for them. There’s not many happy events that they can attend. So I think that this is a day that they’re very happy. They’re very happy today.”