My cell phone rang at 3 PM. I remember the time distinctly because I had an appointment with a potential donor and didn’t want to take a chance on being late. It was Allison Anderson, Director of the Pickens County Library. “Julie, someone abandoned a 17 year old girl at the Easley library yesterday. When the staff locked the doors at 9 PM she left, but then came back and slept outside on the bench. It was on the security monitor. She’s been here all day. What should I do?”
My heart sank. This wasn’t the first time Allison and I had to deal with a homeless person at the Easley library so I knew it would be challenging. Pickens County has no homeless shelter, minimal transitional housing and frankly, it was going to be tricky dealing with a minor.
I called the Department of Social Services and the woman had a barrage of questions that I couldn’t answer; where did she come from, who dumped her, who was responsible for her? DSS recommended we call the Easley police department. I called Allison back and she told me she would call the police but the child said she was “emancipated” from the social service system. I didn’t know what that meant.
It is now 4 PM. I called Steven Lambright with Miracle Hill Ministries. Steven has years of experience dealing with homelessness and I was desperate. I called the Mary’s House Director who said if we could prove the child was emancipated, they would take her. When I relayed this information back to Allison, the truth came out. The girl was NOT emancipated; she had run away from a group home in another county because her parents and a “boyfriend” were in Easley. It was actually the “boyfriend” who left her at the library. He promised to come back and get her but never did, and refused to answer her phone calls. Her parents had lost their parental rights. The group home did not want her back.
The police knew of the girl, the “boyfriend”, and trust me when I say it wasn’t good. Let’s face it, this girl is no “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm” but she is still a child and deserves much better than the hand she has been dealt.
It is now 5 PM. Allison is texting me frantically and Steven calls back and tells me there is NO ONE who can help her. He is frustrated, I am stressing and this child is still abandoned at the Easley library. Mary’s House can’t legally take her. She is too old for Helping Hands and too young for the women’s shelter in another county. All the other homeless shelters in four surrounding counties are full.
I decided to call my former intern who is now working with Pickens County DSS in child protective services. She listened to me intently and promised to call me back after she finished bathing one of four children under the age of six that she removed from a “meth” home. She said they were filthy, neglected and hungry. Are you kidding me?
At 6 PM, I called Michael Barnes, a volunteer who had helped United Way with the homeless count and is a member of United Way’s Hunger and Homelessness Coalitions. He said he would make some calls but wasn’t hopeful. I willed myself not to cry. Shortly he called back and, in his frank and forthright manner that I have come to appreciate, said that this is Pickens County’s reality. There was nothing he could do.
Meanwhile, a 17 year old girl is still sitting at the Easley Library with Allison…and the policeman wondering, “What is going to happen to me?”
Someone…I can’t remember who…called me at 7 PM and said that the Salvation Army in Greenville had made a place for her. I am not sure how she got there and I don’t know what happened to her. I think about her every day. It makes my heart hurt.
Homelessness is not a new problem in Pickens County. Over the years, I’ve spent hundreds of hours trying to find shelter for people in crisis situations. Despite what many people think, it is not someone living under a bridge. Often time it is families with little children.
United Way of Pickens County has committed to tackle this issue head on. In my 17 years at United Way of Pickens County, I have never seen it so bad. But, there is hope! Over 100 Pickens County people from many different organizations including the education and faith communities, government, retirees, the business community are coming together to address hunger and homelessness. It may be officially called a “coalition” but to me, it’s like an army!
In the middle of this turmoil, Karen Culley, who is overseeing the allocation of United Way funding, informed me that requests for funding have tripled due in large part to our efforts to address hunger and homelessness. Five minutes later I was presented with a report that projects our campaign will be down by over $30,000! REALLY?
This was not the news I was expecting to hear, especially the $30,000 shortfall. So, now it is a no holds barred effort to raise this money so we can meet the needs of our most vulnerable citizens.
Am I worried? Yes and no. Yes, because there are only 8 weeks left to raise this money…and no, because we’ve been in this position before and I am confident the generosity of Pickens County residents will prevail. They always have before.
If you would like more information about hunger and homelessness in Pickens County, would like to join our coalition or make a donation, you can call me directly at 864-850-7094 or email@example.com. It is not too late.
Oh, and that meeting with the potential donor? I never made it, never called and they gave anyway.