By ANDREW C. LENNON
SUMMERVILLE — Where would you go to find a New York City bicycle courier, a Vietnam War veteran and an artist? Interesting people like these can be found staying at the Palmetto House, Summerville’s homeless shelter. Unfortunately, the future whereabouts of these grateful souls was in serious doubt during the Palmetto House’s November board meeting. Because the balance in its bank account dropped below half of one month’s operating cost ($7,000), the board almost shut down the shelter.
A motion to keep the Palmetto House open through the Christmas holiday passed contingent upon receiving hoped-for donations from the community. The board is hoping to receive enough funds not only to simply remain open, but also to start some new fund-raising efforts.
The Palmetto House is the only homeless shelter in Dorchester, Berkeley and Colleton counties. It provides three meals per day not only to its residents but also to other hungry people who drop in. Palmetto House not only gives a bed and a roof to the homeless but also a permanent address and phone number, key ingredients for job seeking. Many residents do find jobs, and there are some who have saved enough to find their own residence according to Doris Russell, shelter manager.
The eight-bed shelter admits about 10 new families per month. About 64 percent of residents are unaccompanied men and the remainder women and children. Twenty-nine adults and 15 children are turned away each month because there is not enough room.
During its meeting the board expressed gratitude to the many local churches, businesses, schools, and service groups who contribute so generously. Currently the Palmetto House receives no money from the town or county governments.
Numerous Christian churches representing many denominations provide volunteers who serve dinner at the shelter and then stay for the evening. These volunteers not only provide much-needed relief for the shelter staff but also provide a listening ear to the hungry and homeless. Many volunteers are greatly enriched by this experience. The broad ecumenical support that the Palmetto House receives is a beautiful sign of Christian generosity and thanksgiving.
So what was a New York City bicycle courier doing at the Palmetto House? Looking for a place to sit down. The backyard at Palmetto House is quite humble, but has a few chairs. This man with very poor teeth had spent the afternoon reading in the backyard, and he stayed for dinner. For this man, the Palmetto House only provided a temporary chair and a little serenity, yet he was so very grateful.
A family of about seven people dropped in for dinner one recent evening, three generations including a very cute 8-month-old baby. The grandfather had served in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War, and he shared some stories about friends he had lost. This family was a very cheerful bunch, and after dinner they took a few care packages when they departed in their van.
One very tall, very thin lady had finally found a place to stay and was checking out of the Palmetto House after just a few nights. She only had a moment but paused to express her appreciation and deepest thanks. Before leaving, she opened a large black portfolio that was under her arm. It seems she wanted to share just a little bit of herself so that it would be known that she was a real person, not just a name on a list. She proceeded to display a series of pencil sketches, clearly the work of an artist with great passion.
The future of these former shelter residents is now in their own hands. The future of the Palmetto House now rests in the hands of the Christian communities in Dorchester, Berkeley and Colleton Counties. Donations can be sent to:
117 South Main St.
Summerville, SC 29483
Andrew Lennon is a Palmetto House Board member and volunteer. He resides in Summerville.