A North Charleston church has been doing what it can to help the local homeless by taking them in and off the streets during the night.
A group of about 40 people found refuge Feb. 2 at the World Harvest Community Church on West Montague Avenue. The homeless are shuttled from hot spots in downtown Charleston and North Charleston to the church, where they get a hot dinner, sleep in a room furnished with air mattresses and have breakfast in the mornings before they head back to the streets.
Senior Pastor Thomas Clayton said the church has done ministries on a small scale to help the homeless before but never temporarily housed them. It started unintentionally the week before Thanksgiving, he said, while the church was spreading the word at the Crisis Ministries shelter in downtown Charleston about a Thanksgiving feast the church had planned to host.
One night, the overcrowded shelter left a handful of people without a place to sleep, so Clayton offered some of them the church as a place to stay the night. He decided to keep the shelter going throughout the winter, and the overnight haven eventually grew from eight people in the first night to 40-60 people on any given night in the past two months and the most at 69 people, Clayton said.
"We really didn't plan it. It just happened," he said.
The homeless ministry, however, isn't without any challenges. Some people have sneaked into the church intoxicated and caused problems. A short brawl broke out between two men Feb. 2, and afterward, both men were forced to leave the church. And at least two other disruptive outbursts occurred before then, Clayton said.
"It's hard to work with people who don't want to change," he said. On the other hand, Clayton said there is a good group of people really trying to get some help.
"Our mission is really to help these people transition off the streets to a functional life or way of living -- help them get jobs and get established," Clayton said.
Clayton said he doesn't know how long the church can keep up the shelter, but that it will take it week by week as spring approaches.
Homeless people in various situations have come through the church doors seeking haven -- young and the old, families with children. Some have lost their jobs, others were simply living with limited incomes and didn't have enough to pay for rent. Other people just had nowhere else to go in their lives.
Anne Wait, 51, said she was evicted from her Ladson house soon after her husband lost his job. She's been homeless since October but has stayed nights at the church since Christmas.
"I'm really super thankful to be here," Wait said.
If it wasn't for the church, she said she'd probably be sleeping outside on the steps of some other church. She added she couldn't be any more grateful to the church volunteers who have helped her and the others stay on their feet.
"They don't have to do it," she said. "But they make the sacrifice. They could be home, but they come here."
The church volunteers who have made the shelter possible include three shuttle drivers, a group of women that prepares the meals, two men who stay overnight with the homeless and about a few more volunteers who keep everything organized.
"Lord knows if it wasn't for his grace, I'd be homeless, too," said longtime church member and volunteer Dave Foster.
Foster, a self-employed sound engineer, has been driving shuttles for the homeless ministry practically every morning and night like a second job, but he works the job every day by a motto of unfailing love.
Over the months, he's gotten to know some of the homeless people. Foster said he tells them all the time that he would give his life for any one of them "without hesitation."
"I mean it from my heart," Foster said. "I go back to the Bible where Jesus said, 'A new commandment I give unto you that we love everyone as I love you.' "