Savannah Scott

(York County, S.C.) — Many groups throughout York County are working together to combat homelessness, by implementing programs, such as rent assistance and providing temporary housing, to help the homeless population in the county.

The City of Rock Hill works with local landlords and homeless organizations like Family Promise of York County and Tender Hearts Ministries to help find people homes.

Corinne Sferrazza, Rock Hill’s community development coordinator, helped create a new rapid rehousing program through a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“If someone is homeless, they go into a shelter and they try to get services at maybe Family Promise or Pilgrims Inn and they get an intake of the vulnerability index and they get a number and get put on our list,” said Sferrazza.

The vulnerability index is a scale of zero to 13 that determines how at risk someone is for being homeless, in order to understand how to provide assistance for them, according to Sferrazza.

“When they get put on the list, our agency looks at the list and we call someone on the list that has a number between four and seven. We will subsidize their rent for up to a year (or two), if they still need help,” she said.

“We help them pay for security deposits, we can help moving costs, we can do their utility deposit and to subsidize their rent we usually decline the subsidy. It’s basically to get someone off homelessness.”

Family Promise of York County is a faith-based organization, which opened its doors in the early 2000s and is part of the national Family Promise organization.

The group utilizes local churches and volunteers to prevent generational homelessness and get families back on their feet by providing meals or a place to stay.

Family Promise typically operates a duplex home to help families, but it had to shut down the program, due to the pandemic. However, the group is hoping to reopen the service later this month.

“Each family has a case manager they have to meet with weekly, who works on whatever their goals are with them. If they need mental health treatment, (the case manager) tries to find them options for mental health treatment,” said Leslie Starnes, executive director of Family Promise of York County.

“If child care is a barrier, we work on taking that barrier away by giving them vouchers for child care. (The case manager) works with a lot of the families on budgeting. She works on figuring out what was the reason that (they) were evicted and how we can prevent that from happening in the future,” said Starnes.

Lori Hoffman is the service coordinator for Family Promise, who has worked as a case manager since 2018.

Hoffman said she served as a volunteer at her church, prior to joining Family Promise, which sparked her interest in helping the homeless in the community.

“I started realizing how much they look like I do and how much they love their children and how much their lives are not that much different from mine. I started to feel a real connection to homeless folks in York County. When this position came available, it just seemed like a natural move for me,” said Hoffman. “I always had an interest in social work.”

Family Promise works to implement life skills classes for the families the group works with.

“We do it on different topics of interest for the families. We might have someone come in from the school district and talk about ways to deal with your teenage children or we might have someone come in from the bank and teach you about your credit score,” said Starnes.

“For the older children that are in our program, because we don’t want them to fall into where it’s generational homeless(ness), we try to teach them…financial skills. We talk about self-esteem issues with them, as well as with their parents. We have health care professionals that will come in and work with them.”

The life skills classes are a part of a 90-day program families go through to recognize the reason for becoming homeless, how to be financially literate and how to build life skills.

“I believe in them. I believe that we have a system setup that is not always in their best interests to help them. The families I work with don’t want to be on welfare, but they are stuck in a system that forces them to remain there and they can’t really get out,” said Hoffman.

“Wages are terrible, because they have not increased since 2007 and, yet, the cost of living is skyrocketing. I want to be a part of the solution to help that.”

Tender Hearts is another organization that aims to help homeless women in York County, however, the group has a goal to open a men’s shelter soon.

Jenna Boydston, Tender Hearts’ shelter and transitional housing manager, said she wants to use her position to give back to the community, because she knows firsthand what it’s like to be homeless.

“I moved into the Tender Hearts program (in) May 2013. My girls and I were just down and out and needed help. I was scared out of my mind,” said Boydston.

“After a couple of months, I ended up getting employed with them, because I was going to be driving the clients to doctor’s appointments and to church and everything like that. Next thing I knew, within another year they had a position open in the shelter.”

Boydston said it took her nearly three years to save enough money to buy a house and move out of the transitional housing provided by the Tender Hearts program.

“I had certain expectations of what it was going to look like when I moved out. I wanted to own my place. It took me time to be able to fix my credit up and everything. My goal was to just show women it is absolutely possible, no matter what situation you’re looking at,” Boydston said.

“I never in my life thought that I would be homeless. Just with my upbringing, we weren’t really down and out at any point of my life,” she said.

“I want people to know homelessness is not exactly what you see on TV. Homelessness looks like the normal everyday family. I wanted people to feel normal even though they are homeless. You can move forward, you can get your life back and have better for yourself (and) especially for your children.”

If you are struggling with homelessness, you can visit the Homeless Shelter Directory for more information on assistance available in York County.