Brenda Jamerson has been amazed at how much support a vision to keep homeless people off the street has received. It was one which has culminated in the long-awaited reopening of the Samaritan House shelter, the board chairperson says.
Samaritan House board members were among those who converged upon the homeless shelter at 1580 Middleton St. in Orangeburg to celebrate its reopening on Aug. 31.
The reopening was a culmination of over a year’s worth of hard work and fundraising by the board members, local elected officials and the community. After sitting vacant for four years, the shelter was brought back in operation to serve the Orangeburg community.
Jamerson said she could not be happier about the outpouring of support the shelter has received from the community since its reopening.
“We opened on the first of September, and it has been tremendous. It has been a tremendous outpouring of support from the tri-county area for that Samaritan House. It's from individuals, churches, organizations, businesses. It's just been an outpouring of love financially, in in-kind services and donations of all types,” she said.
The origin of the Samaritan House dates back nearly 20 years when Ginger Jernigan opened the Samaritan House with the help of the faith-based community in February 2002. After serving the community for 14 years, the Samaritan House ceased operation.
Jamerson said the shelter is poised to help meet the needs of its clients with the continued support from the community.
"I am just overwhelmed, and I think the staff is even overwhelmed to see the amount of generosity that has come from the tri-county area. I don't mean during this giving season, but I mean from the time that we opened the doors. People called and asked, 'What do you need? Can we adopt a family? Can we bring you this?' People bring in cooked food. It's not just a dish, but they bring whole meals. It has just been absolutely outstanding,” Jamerson said.
Work to reopen the Samaritan House began after the facility was vacant for months, with Orangeburg Mayor Michael Butler serving as the driving force behind the effort.
"I'm very pleased with the success that it's having. I was the wheel that kind of ran with the idea to get it started. I raised over $500-something-thousand dollars to get it started. I had actual money, and then people pledged money. I was instrumental in setting the board up,” Butler said.
He added, “Brenda Jamerson was the chairperson, and she's doing an excellent job with her skills and talents. She is to be commended and all of the board that's with her."
Butler proceeded to conduct research about the building, eventually helping get the building out of foreclosure with the help of Orangeburg City Attorney James Walsh.
"We worked hard. We had a lot of legal work to do,” said Butler, who said the financial contributions from area businesses and volunteers have also been tremendous and appreciated.
“It's amazing to see how the community and the industries came together. I visited all of those companies myself, asked for the money, laid the vision down for them and people gave. We come together. It makes me feel so good," he said.
Butler said the facility is clean and functioning well even amid the challenges of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“They're careful even in the midst of a pandemic and are getting the clients three meals a day. Mr. Henry Miller is a wonderful director. Ms. Tammy is a good assistant and case worker, and we have the volunteers down there who are just doing so wonderfully in the continuation of providing services to our homeless population,” Butler said.
Jamerson said, “I see a great future for the Samaritan House. I see enhanced collaboration with service agencies because we see the kinds of problems and illnesses that our clients have.”
She added, “If we really want to do something about homelessness and increase their potential for them to find permanent housing, increase their life skills and for them to be more stable, we're going to have to have more collaboration with agencies.”
The board chairperson, a former social worker, said those agencies will include the Orangeburg Area Mental Health Center and S.C. Vocational Rehabilitation Department’s Orangeburg office.
“We have people there who have potential, but they also have some life challenges. Just for us to keep them there for a couple of months and carrying them back out on the street" is not enough, Jamerson said.
"If we're really looking forward to making them productive, healthy citizens, we need to come together and form some kind of coalition for serving our clients. Not only just the homeless clients, but there are other clients who fall through the cracks," she said.
Butler said he likes the idea of the shelter providing for clients’ needs beyond their homelessness, including helping them seek jobs and a permanent residence.
"They have gotten in touch with mental health for those who need mental health services,” along with helping others with accessing Social Security benefits or alcohol and drug abuse counseling, the mayor said.
“They are on the road to meet all of the needs of all of the individuals that are housed there. It's like a one-stop shop," Butler said.
Jamerson said, “We could not have done it without community support. The amount of support is just beyond my imagination. If some have some handy jobs that our residents can do, they'll call us and say, 'Do you have anybody who can help work with me today?'
“The residents give back in the community as well. We had them working with different organizations and churches when they were distributing food boxes. We certainly had them very involved in the distribution of those food boxes because we want them to give back.”
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