FORT MILL — Editor’s note: This is part III of a series examining the reality of homeless people in Fort Mill Township.
Matt, a homeless man who declined to give his last name, rushed around the homeless camp on Jan. 22 near Carowinds Boulevard with his arms full of new blue tarps.
He worked most of the morning creating a back wall for the camp out of tarps as sleet fell around him. He hoped the wall would protect the camp from the frigid wind that blew all day and became icy and nearly unbearable that night. The day’s low temperature was in the 20s, not counting the wind chill factor.
The tarps, like other things around the camp, were donated by local residents. A trailer full of firewood was donated, as well canned goods, tents, blankets and gift cards to local fast-food restaurants.
Matt is especially grateful for the donated items. Originally from Ohio, Matt has been hitchhiking around the Southeast for three years, he said. He stopped in Fort Mill after meeting Lester “Skip” Frankenfield, a homeless man who has lived in the woods in Fort Mill for more than four years.
After meeting Matt, Frankenfield noted Matt’s shoes had holes in them and he needs a coat.
Frankenfield invited Matt to his camp to get whatever he needed.
Matt found a pair of shoes that fit perfectly and a coat. He got a sleeping bag to keep him warm and blankets. He’ll stay there with Frankenfield, “for a while,” he said, though he couldn’t say how long.
In return, Matt wants to repay the kindness by getting the back wall complete by nightfall.
Battling the cold is a challenge the homeless have been better equipped to face thanks to the new blankets and firewood. Matt sleeps in a corner of a donated tent, on a small pile of blankets inside a donated sleeping bag.
Frankenfield continues to huddle inside a rusted old minivan, multiple blankets piled over him.
With sleet falling and more expected, they remained unconcerned.
“We’re experienced,” said Bob Clute, who lives in a homeless camp near Frankenfield and Matt.
Both camps had fires burning for warmth during the day. The fires are kept far from their sleeping areas and offer little warmth through the night. They sleep in layers of clothing and hats.
“I mean, it sucks, man, but it’s OK. God’s blessed me with a warm sleeping bag. So, I’m OK,” Matt said.
Frankenfield’s spot in the woods has become much like the corner store, though no money is exchanged. Donations are being dropped off there and Frankenfield ensures they are passed out among the homeless. He said the firewood has been a huge gift, as have the food and blankets.
Even some of the donations that didn’t seem immediately helpful have been useful in the long run, he said. A donation of women’s clothing went unused until a friend came to visit. She has an apartment now, but is still struggling and barely able to make ends meet. Frankenfield offered her the clothes.
“God is definitely working out here,” Frankenfield said. “It has been amazing, the outpouring of charity.”
On this day, a group of Tega Cay residents dropped off carload after carload of food, blankets and hygiene products. They also donated several quilts designed to combat cold weather.
Seamstress Anne McParland of Tega Cay made the quilts from scrap material. The filling is made from quilt batting, the backs of T-shirts and anything else that would provide a soft, light and warm fill. She enlisted friends Tracy Imler, Therese MacPhee and Elsie Hummel to help make the quilts and delivered them along with the Rev. Roald King, head of Feed the Hungry, a group that has been assisting the homeless in York County for more than 40 years.
When the quilts were complete, MacPhee, also a Tega Cay resident, sent an email to her neighbors asking if anyone had supplies to donate. From there, food, paper products, soap and other hygiene products arrived.
“People think this problem [homelessness] is too big, one person can’t do anything, but look how much we can do,” McParland said.
Jaime Huddy, a Tega Cay resident, helped deliver some of the supplies.
“It’s hard to see this, because it’s right here in your backyard,” she said.
As she stood outside among the homeless encampment it was beginning to rain. School had closed early and sleet was expected to fall again any minute.
“It’s just so cold,” she said. “We’re so cold, just standing here right now. And we’re going to go home. They live here.”
Karen and Bob Clute are grateful for the assistance, but are concerned about the exposure. They are afraid someone might come to harass them or steal their supplies.
“There are some people prejudiced against homeless people, you know,” Bob Clute said. “We worry about those people.”
But out of the exposure, they hope that something good comes – in particular, a job and a place to stay. Bob Clute wants to find work in construction or as a cook, he said.
Matt agrees. He sat around the campfire wishing for a job, even one that was just temporary. About an hour later, a man drove up and offered Matt money in exchange for helping him paint a deck. Matt jumped at the opportunity.
He hopes more work comes his way.