Service groups request help

Homelessness and poverty has steadily increased in Catawba County in the past decade, and some area aid organizations said more can be done to help the growing population.

In the past 10 years, poverty has increased 77 percent in Catawba County, with nearby areas like Sherrills Ford being deemed some of the poorest in the region, according to data, released recently, by the Western Piedmont Council of Governments released recently.

In 2009, more than 22,400 people in Catawba County were living in poverty – a growing number that area non-profits say could outgrow the existing resources available.

The Salvation Army, Grace House Ministries and Shepherd’s Heart are three area organizations working together to help the homeless in Catawba County.

Shepherd’s Heart President Stephanie Hernandez said resources do exist, but said they can and should be improved.

The Shepherd’s Heart operates out of a building on Sulphur Springs Road, where the homeless, impoverished or regular citizen can come and get clothes, soap, shampoo, toothbrushes and other items. Hernandez also takes bags of supplies and food to more than 30 homeless men and women in tent camps throughout the Hickory area.

“With people’s help, we could do so much more,” she said, adding that The Shepherd’s Heart is has plans to move into a larger building that could accommodate the homeless. “We would be able to put these people to work and let them wash their own clothes. We could give them something to do when they don’t do anything all day. We would be able to show them that we are here, too.”

The Shepherd’s Heart operates off of donations from area churches and individuals. Hernandez said anyone wishing to donate or pick up items at the store make an appointment by calling 828-256-0062.

“If you need something, we’ve probably got it – come and get it,” she said.

Hernandez, who was once homeless herself, said “a calling from God” keeps her on the streets helping the homeless.

“I was on the street for a long time,” Hernandez said. “I, myself, went through the Exodus program, was in prison and was on crack cocaine for years. I’ve been clean for 10 years. About 10 years ago, I decided to clean up my life. I got back into my church, and God spoke to me and told me this is what I needed to do.”

Hernandez opened the Shepherd’ Heart’s building on Sulphur Springs Road on Jan. 10, 2010, and area homeless men and women helped fix up her building. If she gets a new building, she plans to put the homeless to work as much as she can.

“I couldn’t see myself not helping them,” she said.

Hernandez said The Shepherd’s Heart works with organizations such as the Grace House in Hickory and Salvation Army in a team effort.

The Grace House welcomes homeless men and women at 8:30 a.m. daily and asks them to leave at 3 p.m. The Salvation Army in Hickory is the opposite, taking in the homeless at 3:30 p.m. every day and keeping them overnight until 9 a.m.

In the winter and under extreme weather circumstances, both organizations make exceptions to their hours.

Salvation Army offers breakfast and dinner to its residents, and area soup kitchens provide most of the homeless with lunch.

Grace House staff member Geoff Clontz said the service organizations provide hope to the hopeless.

“A lot of these people have no hope,” Clontz said. It’s letting them know that there is a God that cares. It gives them something to look forward to and know that their circumstances are not unnoticed and not forgotten.”

At the Grace House, the homeless can listen to the radio, use the computer, eat snacks and have a place to reside. Residents could wash their clothes at the facility up until recently, when officials stopped the process due to high electricity bills.

“We run into people who fall through the cracks in the organized system who fall through the cracks,” Clontz said. “We see a lot of people here because of the economy. They just don’t have jobs and lose their place to live.”

All of the organizations take, and request, donations and ideas for how service can be improved. To contact the Grace House, call 828-322-1290.

For the Salvation Army, call 828-322-8061.

“We all work together to help one another out,” Hernandez said. “That’s the main goal.”