On Friday morning, dozens of volunteers stood ready at the Veterans Center in North Charleston for the VA hospital's 17th annual Stand Down Against Homelessness.
Some of them were offering free haircuts. Others were serving hot meals or accepting resumes. But unlike years past, relatively few veterans had lined up outside the entrance for their help.
"Normally, it's a huge crowd," one volunteer at the registration booth remarked.
Maybe the cool weather kept the veterans away. Maybe some absentees hadn't realized the event had been rescheduled after Hurricane Matthew forced organizers to change the date. Maybe the smaller crowd offered some anecdotal evidence that homelessness among the local veteran population is improving.
"Our numbers have been declining (at the event) over the years, which we take as a good thing," said Meredith Hagen, spokeswoman for the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center.
The 2016 Homeless Assessment Report, published last month by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, does show some year-over-year improvement.
Homelessness in South Carolina declined almost 6 percent since 2015. Still, the numbers here are almost 13 percent higher than they were in 2010.
All told, 5,051 South Carolinians were homeless this year. More than 700 of them are veterans.
The problem is particularly pronounced in Myrtle Beach and Sumter. More than 81 percent of hundreds of homeless veterans in those areas had no shelter at all this year — the highest rate among small cities and counties in the country.
Mike Hayes, 60, traveled from Myrtle Beach to attend Stand Down Against Homelessness on Friday. He served overseas in the Army for four years in the 1970s. Now, he's homeless. He just needs "more help," he said.
Luckily, plenty of it was on hand. Veterans were offered free flu shots, dental hygiene kits, breakfast, lunch and hot coffee. The event was staffed by benefits specialists and hospital administrators. Several local employers, including Home Depot and Marriott, had set up booths to accept job applications.
Lamarkus Palmer, a recruiter for Expert Global Solutions, sat under an outdoor tent at Stand Down Against Homelessness to collect resumes.
Palmer said the company needs to hire call center specialists. The jobs come with benefits, time off and Expert Global Solutions pays up to $10.75 an hour.
He said the company has hired veterans from Stand Down Against Homelessness before.
"We like to attend every year," Palmer said. "We're all about giving back to the community."
Last year, about 300 veterans attended the event. Fewer than 200 attended this year.
Jerome Perry, 62, who served in Germany with the U.S. Army in the mid-1970s, was one of them. He is disabled now, but has a home in Charleston. Nevertheless, he said he comes to Stand Down Against Homelessness every year to meet up with his buddies. He complimented the VA hospital on the event. Palmetto Goodwill and Palmetto Warrior Connection also helped host it.
"They do a pretty good job," Perry said.
For help, homeless veterans are encouraged to call the VA hospital, 843-577-5011, or the Charleston Vet Center in North Charleston, 843-789-7000.