Rock Hill's Homeless Services (Including the Free Bus) Adjust for Covid-19

Mar 16, 2020

The Dorothy Day Soup Kitchen typically serves hot sit-down meals six days a week. But Covid-19 has changed that. Food is now being handed to guests outside, to go.
Credit Scott Morgan / South Carolina Public Radio

Rock Hill has two services the city's homeless population uses on a daily basis to get something to eat. One is the MyRide bus system, a free, citywide service for all; the other is the Dorothy Day Soup Kitchen,

MyRide drops off across the street from the soup kitchen Monday through Saturday at around 11:30 a.m. There, a usually packed No. 2 route bus mostly empties and riders make their way to a hot lunch at one of the soup kitchen's tables, amid plenty of chatty company.

On Monday, lunch was not hot, not chatty, and not served on a plate taken to a table. It was a ham and cheese sandwich, a ham buscuit, some snacks, and a diet Mountain Dew, placed inside a plastic shopping bag and given at the door. Guests took their lunches, thanking the women who give them, and strolling away to various places on a chilly, cloudy morning.

It is a meal most certainly made on the fly, in reaction to a stunning and sudden outbreak of a pandemic

This room at Dorothy Day Soup Kitchen is usually shoulder-to-shoulder during daily lunches. Behind the divider are more tables. But guests will not be coming inside for a while, to help protect against the spread of coronavirus.
Credit Scott Morgan / South Carolina Public Radio

that demands people all over the United States keep their distance from each other. Jan Stephenson, the director of Dorothy Day Soup Kitchen, says the sandwich-and-biscuit lunch is not ideal, but it is what could be done today.

"We usually serve a hot meal," Stephenson says. "But the way thigs have gone, we had to make a decision."

The part of that decision that landed on Mountain Dew came because Stephenson and her husband could not find any bottled water. Another part is the fact that so many of the soup kitchen's volunteers did not come in Monday.

"We have between 150 and 200 volunteers and the majority of them are seniors," she says. "So we had to think of what would be best for our guests ... and our volunteer base."

Stephenson says hot meals will return as the volunteer staff catches is breath. in the meantime, they'll continue feeding the homeless and other guests as well as they can.

How to continue services for the city’s homeless triggered an emergency meeting  Monday morning between Pathways Community Center – the city’s main hub of services for homeless people – and CACH, the Catawba Area Coalition for the Homeless. There are questions of what to do if the city shuts down the free MyRide bus system until the coronavirus outbreak subsides and how to make sure meals offered through the Dorothy Day Soup Kitchen keep getting into the hands of guests.

Grace Lewis, director at Pathways, says that if the buses slow or stop, she might "borrow a bus from church" and drive people who spend their days at Pathways over to the soup kitchen, or she might bring the food to Pathways itself.

Rock Hill's MyRide bus system is free transportation. Many of the city's poorer residents rely on it to get to the hospital, to jobs, and to homeless shelters. The system is following strict cleanliness and safety protocols to help protect drivers and riders.
Credit Scott Morgan / South Carolina Public Radio

Katie Quinn, spokeswoman for the City of Rock Hill, says there are no plans to stop the buses, but the city might limit service in the coming days. She says officials are leery of stopping the service because so many of Rock Hill's poorest rely on the free rides to get to work, supermakets, and doctors.

The same bus that stops at Dorothy Day later stops at Piedmont Medical Center. It's one of MyRide's most full buses. And should it have to stop, or even be of limited run, homeless Rock Hill residents like Johnny Jones say will be forced to get there the hard way.

"Guess I'll have to walk," says Jones, who stays at Bethel Men's Shelter. That's about four miles from Piedmont and three from the soup kitchen. He'll walk if he has to, he says. But he's not eager to do that, especially with the pacemaker in his chest.

Scott Morgan is the Upstate Multimedia Reporter for South Carolina Public Radio. Follow Scott on Twitter @byscottmorgan.

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