Rural homelessness makes up seven percent of the homeless population in the United States, yet it goes largely ignored since it is not as out in the open as it is in more urban areas. Last winter, 38 different men utilized the emergency shelter at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church, which only opened when the temperature was projected to be below 40°. Agencies who deal with the homeless believe that there are many more out there. The impact to Greenwood County is far and wide.
According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH), there are approximately 14 homeless people on average for every 10,000 people in rural areas. That would equate to about 100 people in Greenwood County which have no place to call home. Two of the largest homeless populations in the United States are in rural areas, according to an NAEH prevalence of homelessness study conducted in 2009.
The NAEH says that issues such as poverty and unemployment, two factors that heavily contribute to homelessness, are more prevalent in rural areas, thus causing some rural areas to have high rates of homelessness which are more comparable to urban areas.
In Greenwood, the Pathway House recently opened its doors as an emergency shelter for men. The new shelter is still currently using St. Mark’s as the shelter, but will be transitioning to Abney Memorial Baptist Church on Panola Avenue in the near future. Pathway House will eventually have room for 40 men and eight women at their facility.
Those that are homeless also often use other social services in the community, such as the soup kitchen and DSS. Some also ask the police to put them in jail for the night to get them out of the cold. In a letter supporting Pathway House, Greenwood Police Chief Gerald Brooks said that, “[o]ften, law enforcement is the first to encounter the homeless. When we learn of their plight, we have a duty and a moral obligation to assist them (“To Protect and To Serve”). Currently, the resources available in our community are woefully inadequate.”
In addition to providing shelter for victims of domestic violence, Meg’s House in Greenwood also provides three separate programs for those who are homeless or are about to become homeless. The GAMES Transitional Housing Program (Greenwood, Abbeville, McCormick, Edgefield, and Saluda) provides temporary housing (up to 24 months) and supportive services to families and individuals who are facing homelessness. Project HOPE (Housing Opportunities for People Everywhere) provides permanent housing for chronically homeless individuals. Operation Impact provides permanent housing and supportive services for chronically homeless individuals.
A report from RootCause.org states that “programs that house chronically homeless persons without preconditions, such as sobriety and mental health treatment, and that provide support services can end chronic homelessness.” According to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), chronically homeless individuals are those who have a disability, such as mental illness, drug dependency, or a physical impairment, who have been living in a place unsuitable for habitation or a homeless shelter for one continuous year or four incidents of homelessness in three years.
The report further states that those who are chronically homeless eventually become either victims of crime or perpetrators of crime. Chief Brooks echoed that sentiment in his support letter for Pathway House. These issues make homelessness an issue which cannot be overlooked, even in a community like Greenwood.