Groups shine light on homeless and hungry in Myrtle Beach area for national awareness week

All Peaches Ison and Lili Rhoden have is each other.

The couple has been friends since they met 10 years ago in Kentucky and moved to Myrtle Beach together a little more than two years ago so they could be themselves.

“We’ve known each other for a long time. I’ve actually loved her for 10 years, but didn’t get the courage to tell her how I felt until a couple of years ago,” Ison said about Rhoden. “It’s been a tough couple of years. We left everything we had in Kentucky to come here. We just couldn’t be ourselves up there. We’re a lot better off together here, but it’s tough.”

For the past two years Ison and Rhoden have spent time living in motels, shelters, the woods and for the past few weeks have spent their nights in a van they purchased earlier this year.

Both women will start working at Hardee’s hopefully this week, they said.

The women have had a rough couple of years and said their 4-year-old daughter was taken from them by social services when they were discovered living in the woods off of Mr. Joe White Avenue last month.

“We’re allowed to go see her, but we can’t take her with us,” Ison said, fighting back tears.

Once their daughter was taken, Ison said they stayed at Street Reach – which has emergency overnight beds for the homeless as well as a long-term transitional program to move the chronic homeless back into mainstream society – for two nights.

Since then, they’ve been in their van.

The women stopped by the Myrtle Beach Community Assistance Center on Wednesday to eat lunch and stayed to check out the Help Us Help You event, where organizations gathered to offer services such as health care and job opportunities to those in need.

“We usually try to eat lunch at the Community Kitchen and we’ll go to Street Reach for dinner if we can,” Ison said.

Raising awareness

The Help Us Help You event was one of several activities that occurred in the Myrtle Beach area during National Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week, which ends Sunday. The week is a national endeavor that strives to promote education, action and awareness about hunger and homelessness. The week is sponsored by the National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Student Campaign Against Hunger & Homelessness.

Students at Coastal Carolina University participated in a week’s worth of activities designed to bring awareness to hunger and homelessness including a hunger banquet and the Chanty Town overnight sleep out. The school has hosted similar activities in the past as well and organized a full week of activities for the past two years, according to Nicole Cozzi, CCU’s AmeriCorps Vista volunteer services coordinator.

“Unfortunately we had a slow turnout for students this year. I think it’s still a very new concept here at Coastal,” Cozzi said, adding that having the events the week before Thanksgiving makes it hard for students since it’s such a busy time of the semester.

Another group of people who work to help those in need took part in a poverty simulation on Wednesday, and Mary Jeffcoat, who participated in the simulation, said everyone was surprised by what they learned. Each participant was given an identity, a description of that person’s life situation and had to figure out how to make ends meet.

“For instance, I learned how crippling not having reliable transportation is,” said Jeffcoat, who has been facilitating steering committee meetings for a homeless coalition of agencies that provide services to homeless people in the Myrtle Beach area. “If you have a job but you can’t get to that job, you can end up getting fired – which is what happened to my ‘husband’ in the simulation.”

Jeffcoat said it’s important to have a week that brings awareness to homelessness and hunger in the community.

“It makes you stop and think, ‘what would it be like if I were homeless?’ ” she said. “There are people in our midst – within a bike ride of where we live – who are homeless.”

Every two years, Horry County holds a count of people who are considered homeless – which could include people who live outdoors or in short-term hotels, according to Myrtle Beach spokesman Mark Kruea. In early 2011, nearly 900 people were counted.

Jeffcoat said plans are beginning to be put in place to merge the boards of organizations that provide services to homeless people and victims of domestic violence by July 1, 2013. The proposal is for the boards of domestic violence organizations, the Center for Women and Children and Street Reach to merge and Jeffcoat said they will encourage other organizations to join them.

Serving the hungry on Thanksgiving

Community Kitchen and Street Reach are some of the facilities in Myrtle Beach that will serve food to those in need on Thanksgiving Day.

Community Kitchen, 1411 10th Ave. North, will serve lunch starting at 3 p.m. and Street Reach will offer food all day – from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Street Reach is located at 1005 Osceola St.

“It will be a beautiful display of our volunteers serving – literally,” said Street Reach resource and development manager Farrah Dickerson.

She said the facility is accepting donations to help them provide food all day. If anyone wants to donate a frozen turkey, green beans, cranberry sauce or mashed potatoes to Street Reach, they are asked to stop by in the days leading up to Thanksgiving.