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Florence event provides help for the homeless and the desperate

April 6, 2019 GMT

FLORENCE, S.C. — Connecting those in need of services with agencies who can provide services is what the First Friday Homeless Connect event has been doing now for almost seven years.

Friday’s gathering was no exception.

Attendees lined up in the basement hall at Poynor Adult Education Center, were given a number and called into the gym as the service, or services, they needed became available.

From health care, physical and mental, to legal services, veterans services, housing, employment, substance abuse treatment and transportation services, agencies formed a square in which people could find assistance and even find assistance finding assistance.

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“I help with the guides, and what the guides do after someone comes in and after they’ve filled out their paperwork they direct people to the service they need so they don’t have to wander around,” said Joyce Ford with the Naomi Project who oversees the guides at the event.

“If they need legal we take them to legal. After they finish with legal we find out what else they have checked off and be able to get all the services they have checked off they need today,” Ford said.

Although it is billed as a homeless connect event, Ford said many of the people they see aren’t homeless.

“Most of them might not be on the street; they just need the service,” Ford said. “As little as getting a bus pass, what’s that, $1.25, that might not seem like much to us but for them to try to get a bus pass to just try to go to the services. Even though we have a free bus downtown we still have services out (of downtown). What if they want to go to the DMV?”

And if they still can’t get to the DMV, sometimes the DVM participated in the connect event.

Ford said it is important to reach out to serve a community that has not been served in the past and isn’t being surved currently.

“Just think how important it is to say ‘I can help you expunge some of the legal things that you have on your record,’” Ford said. “How encouraging is that for an individual to want to move on whereas most of the time they think they’re stuck. We’re here to get them unstuck.”

Susan Firimonte with South Carolina Legal Services was on hand with a second attorney and Firimonte’s office manager.

“We see clients that have any legal needs. It’s bringing our legal services to where the clients are,” Firimonte said.

“With Florence being on the I-95 corridor there’s never a shortage of new homeless people,” she said. “We help them with a variety of legal needs from Social Security issues to losing their documents and helping them get replacement identity documents, getting SNAP or Medicaid and also removing obstacles to employment with expungements and pardons as well.”

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In some cities it’s actually a crime to be homeless when you’re arrested for sleeping in public, she said.

While the legal services only handle civil issues, in South Carolina expungement and pardons are handled in civil court.

Criminal convictions can keep people from getting meaningful employment or qualifying for public housing, Firimonte said.

“What we do here is social services stuff with homeless and low income. Just anybody desperate and we get a lot of desperate people in Florence who are not being helped by current services,” said Dr. Ron Murphy, a psychology professor at Francis Marion University and a licensed psychologist.

Murphy and some of his students volunteer at the event as a way to help the community and to give the students a look at what they could see as graduates.

What they do, though, is not so much mental health services as social work — connecting those in need with the correct service providers, he said.

“We get people whose lives are such a twisted mess that each problem prevents the other problem from getting fixed. No car so no job so no money to get child care so you can’t get to work that you don’t have,” Murphy said. “We stay with them, we do case management.”

In an environment that can quickly lead to mental health problems, Murphy said, he and his students refer people to Pee Dee Mental Health as well as a group of mental health practitioners who offer pro-bono services to those in need.

Several Veterans Administration representatives were on hand Friday morning.

“My job as case manager is to help them coordinate services if they need mental health services, get them connected with social workers. I can do that,” said Pam Perry, who is the Transition Care Management representative in Florence. “If they need housing I can connect them with social work to get them housing.”

She works specifically with post 9/11 veterans, though she can direct other vets to service representatives.

Perry said many of her combat veteran clients face challenges that most people do not — post traumatic stress disorder and, occasionally, traumatic brain injury.

“I’m here to make sure veterans know about the veterans crisis hotline,” said Dr. Jessica Nicholson, suicide prevention coordinator at WJB Dorn Medical Center in Columbia.

“A big part of what we do is try to be out in the community, not stay within the VA clinic because many veterans who end up dying by suicide aren’t even connected with the VA so it is important to do outreach,” Nicholson said.

Some volunteers are not directly involved with any service agency but do feel the need to help.

“I got on the internet and went through United Way and they contacted me and gave me the information and I’m here today,” said Bruce Turner, whose first day as a volunteer was Friday.

“I like helping people. It’s always good to give back, see people do better. At a certain point in your life you can help, why not help,” said Turner, who owns Great Quality Pest Solutions.

The connect events happen the first Friday of the month for the remainder of the year, except July or when Poynor is unexpectedly closed because of weather or other reasons.

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