By: Nickelle Smith

Posted: May 06, 2019 11:40 PM EDT

Updated: May 06, 2019 11:41 PM EDT


SPARTANBURG, SC (WSPA) – Spartanburg’s homeless will soon have access to a new day shelter called the Spartanburg Opportunity Center.

It’s the result of work by the Spartanburg Homeless Task Force, which includes United Way of the Piedmont, Spartanburg Interfaith Hospitality Network (SPIHN), The City of Spartanburg, Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce, and Catholic Charities of South Carolina.

SPIHN Executive Director Beth Rutherford said last year’s count found 237 sheltered and unsheltered homeless people in Spartanburg County.

“Even if that number went up to 300, 400, it’s still not true,” said Rutherford. “I always say multiply whatever number you hear by 10.”

Leaders said homelessness can sometimes go unseen.

“You see street homelessness but you also see a lot of hidden homelessness so people who may be living in their cars or abandoned buildings or they are living in the motels,” said United Way of the Piedmont Director of Financial Stability Strategy Hannah Jarrett.

Members of the homeless task force said they hope the new day shelter can help.

The city-owned Northwest Community Center at 701 Saxon avenue will house the year-long pilot phase for the Spartanburg Opportunity Center.

“After that, depending on the success and what we learned during the pilot, we’ll determine whether or not the opportunity center stays in this facility long term,” said Jarrett.

People will get a place to do laundry, get a shower, have mail delivered, store their stuff, or charge their phones.

They hope to use some rooms for lessons on financial literacy or to help the mentally ill.

Rutherford said the outreach aspect will also be crucial.

“It will also help not only those who are homeless but those who are maybe teetering in poverty. Unfortunately we have a high poverty rate here,” said Rutherford. “For a lot of the individuals on the street it’s merely ‘I don’t know how to do this’ or ‘I don’t know how to do that’ or I’m not getting my social security money. It’s just they need someone to talk to.”

She said they’re working to have it opened by July first, and operate a couple days a week in the afternoon.

“I have seen 14 year olds. I’ve seen 75 year olds. I’ve seen women. I’ve seen men, I’ve seen families,” said Rutherford. “This year we met a group of teenagers, 18-21, that are out living in tents. They’re productive, they have jobs, but they’re just.. they came here from another place. One young man’s parents had died so he’s just kind of left on his own.”

She said addressing homelessness can help alleviate concerns that have been addressed by downtown business owners, and build the local workforce if these people can get property training.

“Homeless people are not mean, they’re not going to attack you, they’re not crazy, they’re just looking for compassion,” said Rutherford.

Jarrett said there were also talks about building a day shelter facility, but using the city’s property was more cost efficient and could get started faster.

The facility is located on the SPARTA bus route, and leaders hope its proximity to downtown is convenient for people needing help.

Anyone wanting to help the new center by donating things like laundry items, towels, laundry bags, cleaning supplies, or money can contact the United Way of the Piedmont or SPIHN.

Officials said people can also help by volunteering their time.

Watch the full news story from WSPA here.