The state of homelessness in Rock Hill, SC

Emmanuel Williams on Dec. 7, 2021 at Pathways Community Center in Rock Hill, S.C. (photo: Christian Smith).

“The reason I got down here is because me and her kind of had a split up. I’m talking to you now because, now I’m coming from my heart, because its hurting me to have to give up everything I had built to get down here. I got down here because I got stressed out. I didn’t want to be around, but I still think about her. But I just couldn’t be around her. So when I got down here, I had nowhere to go.”

Emmanuel Williams came to Rock Hill with nothing, leaving his old life in Anderson, S.C. behind. He, like many in Rock Hill, had to sleep in the woods with strangers because he had nowhere else to go. 

“You don’t want to be out there in the streets. You know, because its dangerous out there,” Williams said. “The time when I got here, and I had sleep in the woods with a friend that I didn’t know. But he looked out for me, and I respect him. I still respect him today.”

Many people just like Williams live in Rock Hill, finding shelter where they can. Some stay in the woods, like Williams; others sleep under highway overpasses; while still others stay with relatives, having no place of their own. In 2020, York County was ranked number eight on the top 10 counties with the highest Point in Time (PIT) count responses, a measure used to track people who are homeless, according to the 2020 South Carolina State of Homelessness Report. 

The report, created by the South Carolina Interagency Council on Homelessness, says in York County 162 people experienced homelessnes in March of 2020, of which 36% were unsheltered, meaning they “were residing in places not suitable for human habitation” while 64% were sheltered, meaning they “were residing in emergency or transitional housing.”

People may become homeless for a number of different reasons, but according to the study “Using K-Means Cluster Analysis and Decision Trees to Highlight Significant Factors Leading to Homelessness,” people often do not become homeless due to a single hardship. Often, several different hardships, such as medical bills, food instability, housing instability, overdue utility bills and disabilities combine to make it difficult to stay housed. According to the most recent census, 12.6% of people in Rock Hill were in poverty and 11.2% did not have health insurance at the time of the census. 

In York County, 24% of the population lived in a household that spent at least half of their income on rent and utilities, or had no income at all, according to the 2013-2017 American Community Survey. 

The average wage in York County was $12.54, which is $7.23 short of what the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) calls the housing wage, the amount of money per hour a person would need to make to spend less than 30% of their income renting a two bedroom apartment at fair market rent, according to the NLIHC Out of Reach Report in 2019. 

In 2016, South Carolina had the highest number of evictions in the country, according to the South Carolina Housing Needs Assessment by SC Housing. While data was not available for York County, “for every 1,000 renter households statewide, 187 received a notice and 89 were forcibly removed. These figures are dramatically higher than any other state in the country; Delaware and Virginia, the states with the next highest rate, had 51 evictions per 1,000 renters.”

South Carolina Housing Needs Assessment also highlights an affordable housing shortage happening in South Carolina. In York County, 15,395 renters are eligible for housing assistance but do not live in an assisted unit. York County is also in high-demand for new construction, having a real estate market “where affordability was likely to be a particularly serious challenge going forward,” according to the assessment. 

The hardships people who become homeless face are often the result of structural barriers, not a person’s individual choices, according to Sara Brallier, professor of sociology at Costal Carolina University. Brallier, whose research focuses on homelessness in the Myrtle Beach area, said often times people who are homeless were not afforded the same opportunities as other people.

“One of the biggest problems is that folks think that it’s because they have made bad choices. You know, something that someone said about a kid that was successful is, you know, ‘Well, he made good choices.’ And someone retorted, ‘Well, he had good choices to make.’ And so, you know, I think about that all the time. Lots of these folks didn’t even have good choices to make, right?”

Williams became homeless because his wife was financially taking advantage of him, he said. After they split up, he had to leave everything behind and move away. But before he was homeless, Williams was a supervisor at a factory in Anderson. 

“I’m going through this course, and this man that worked there was a supervisor named Roger, kind of an older guy. He said ‘I need a good man that’s going to work every day and don’t be out.’ I said, ‘Yes sir, I’m your man.’ So he put me on this machine with this lady named Cindy. She’s training me with the machine,” he said. “So once I got used to it I could start it up myself. And, you know, I’m doing really good.”

Williams almost got fired over a background check but was allowed to keep working after his supervisor’s boss chose to ignore it. Over time, he started learning more machines.

“So this man, my supervisor … he was so cool, so understanding. He believed in second chances,” he said. “So he gave me a second chance. But when he started training me on all these machines, man, I’m learning them.”

Eventually, Williams rose to be his supervisor’s lead man and, eventually, became a supervisor himself. 

“See, this how life feels sometimes. Life moves so fast. And your mind, your mind ain’t ready for it, but you think you ready for it. But you’re not,” he said. “So I became a supervisor, and I met this beautiful woman on the job. Me and her got married, but she had kids, but I don’t care. I loved her. 

“And I think that she was wanting more out of me because I was in the [National] Guard and I was a supervisor. I think she was thinking that she can get anything now she wants because she know I love her.”

Black people, like Williams, are more likely than white people to be homeless in South Carolina, according to the 2020 South Carolina State of Homelessness report. In a statewide PIT count, 53% of homeless people were Black, despite making up only 27% of the population, according to the census.

In South Carolina, the number of people experiencing homeless may be growing. According to an article by WIS News in Columbia, S.C. titled “SC homeless shelter seeing ‘tsunami’ of people in need after eviction moratorium ends,” since the end of the eviction moratorium, where landlords were barred from evicting renters due to the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations like Homeless No More are at capacity. 

“Normally we will see 10 phone calls a day from families who are at risk of homelessness. In the past 10 days, we are now at 20 to 30 phone calls each day from families who have received notice of evictions and will be homeless in the next 24 to 48 hours,” Homeless No More CEO Lila Anna Sauls said, according to the article.

According to a report by STOUT prepared for the National Council of State Housing Agencies in 2020, “Analysis of Current and Expected Rental Shortfall and Potential Evictions in the U.S.,” an estimated 150,000 – 210,000 renters were unable to pay rent with a rent shortfall of an estimated $329,000,000 – $429,000,000 in January 2021, when the eviction moratorium was originally going to end. 

While there is no recent data for homeless adults in 2021 in Rock Hill, data on the number of homeless children in Rock Hill public schools was obtained through open records requests. During the 2018-2019 school year, 101 children in Rock Hill public schools experienced homelessness. During the 2020-2021 school year, that number rose to 162 children, a rise of around 60%. 

College students also experience homelessness but are often overlooked, according to the article “College Student Homelessness: A Hidden Epidemic” by Chad Klitzman. 

“To many, the term ‘homeless college student’ sounds like a contradiction,” the article says. “However, in 2013, nearly 60,000 applicants for federal financial aid under the age of twenty-one self-identified as homeless; given that this figure does not encompass students over the age of twenty-one, the number likely eclipses 100,000.”

Josie Pope, a senior mass communication and English dual major at Winthrop University, became homeless senior year of high school after her mother kicked her out of the house. 

“Like any queer person, you know, there’s a time in your life when your family becomes more and more suspicious of you as you develop as a person,” she said. “And for me, you know, that turned out into a large heated argument, which I think the pandemic kind of exasperated in a way. And my mother just simply literally just kicked me out in the middle of the night because of the fact that I was too queer, and she had accused me of being trans.”

According to “LGBT People and Housing Affordability, Discrimination and Homelessness,” an article by the UCLA School of Law, Williams Institute, family rejection is a major contributing factor to the high levels of LGBT youth experiencing homelessness. Between 20% and 45% of homeless youth identify as LGBT, which is two to four times more than the estimated percentage of all youth who identify as LGBT. 

Pope stayed with friends and family until eventually she was able to move in with her grandparents. However, she said they are only marginally more accepting than her mother. 

“My grandmother has a strong sense of family, and I guess that kind of overrides her feelings about trans people,” she said. “They let me live there because we’re family. Sometimes there can be a strain for them, with me being trans.”

People who identify as transgender such as Pope face economic hardship at a higher rate than people who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. According to “LGBT People and Housing Affordability, Discrimination and Homelessness,” nearly half of LGBT adults own their homes, compared to 70% of non-LGBT adults. LGBT adults have 15% higher odds of being poor than non-LGBT adults after controlling for age, race, employment status, education, disability and other factors that affect risk of poverty. 

“This is all I can do financially. I don’t have a car. I don’t have really anything to my name. And with being homeless, I have not had the ability to actually have a job. Because I don’t have car, I have to walk places. And so that really is dependent on where I’m living, what my living situation is,” Pope said.

Pope now has a job at Starbucks and receives financial help from Winthrop. However, she said she still has a hard time feeling comfortable anywhere, even in her dorm. 

“Because the way I became homeless was a very violent and quick experience, I think, since then I’ve had trouble recognizing places as a living place,” she said. “At all points, I could probably pack up myself in 30 minutes and be out of that place … I don’t recognize it as like a living space or like a place that’s my own to, like, personalize or do that thing where people like decorate their places. 

“And so I don’t see it like that. I don’t see it as like a actual home or place that is safe. It’s just somewhere I go to bed and wake up and leave.”

Rock Hill has many nonprofits dedicated to helping the homeless population in its city. Pathways, a nonprofit itself, houses many of these organizations with the purpose of creating an intake and referral agency and single point of entry for those in crisis, poverty or who are homeless. 

It uses a continuum of care model to “outsource” help that people need to other nonprofits that specialize in meeting the specific need, such as transportation, clothing, housing, identification, food, financial help, education, employment and health. However, all associated nonprofits are housed on site, which “provides a multifunctional community center where agencies unite to accomplish one goal: to provide services for those in need at a single point of entry facility,” according to their flyer.

Williams is no longer homeless because of Pathways. He was able to find a house, get furniture and get back on his feet because of the nonprofit.

“This lady on the bus wanted to know where I was going. I said, ‘I don’t know where to go.’ She told me about Pathways. On the bus, she told me, ‘I’m going to show you where Pathways is,’” he said. “All the ladies in here, we talked, and I told them, I said, ‘Hey, I don’t know nobody. I don’t know where to go.’ And so I went to Bethel [Men’s Shelter], and they gave me a bed.

“But the people out there in the street, they are struggling. They don’t know what to do. They don’t know where to go. I mean, they don’t know if they are going to be around the next day, or if they are going to be living. They don’t got no clue.”

According to Brallier, nonprofits aren’t able to do enough on their own to combat homelessness. 

“They simply can’t meet the need. The two that I work with are both focused on food insecurity. So it’s a food pantry and then a community kitchen in Conway, which is technically the city that the university is is located, and both of them do a great job. But there, there’s only so much that nonprofits can really do,” she said.

Governments should be doing more to try to curb homelessness, according to Brallier. There are plans that are working in other places, she said, and more governments should consider using them.

“One of the things that is really working in other places that we do not do comprehensively here is the housing first model, where they have a supply of no cost or low cost housing, and they put someone in housing,” she said. “It’s hard to treat someone’s addiction when, you know, they go back to the streets. Whereas if they have a safe place to stay, then we start working on mental health, physical health, addiction, finding jobs [and] training.”

According to the Fiscal Year 2020 Year-End Strategic Plan Performance Report, Rock Hill met their goals to:

“Complete the full build out of Arcade by 6/30/2021.” The build out was completed in Fall 2019.

“Provide annual updates on the implementation of the Housing Development Corporation strategic plan.” According to the report, “The HDC continues to work around ‘Buy, Fix, Keep’ and provides an annual report in the Fall of every year.”

However many goals outlined in the report were not met. They include:

“Develop a comprehensive analysis of housing conditions, affordability, inventory, vacancy rates, occupancy trends, etc. in the neighborhoods surrounding Knowledge Park by 12/31/2019.”

“Attract mixed income housing units to Knowledge Park by permitting at least 75 new mixed income units by 6/30/2021.”

“Develop a mixed income housing incentive pilot program by 12/31/2019”

Brallier said that cities will pay for homelessness one way or the other, either through programs to combat it or through people who are homeless utilizing public services.

“You pay for it regardless of how you pay for it. You’re either going to pay for it by having these folks utilize public services, or you’re going to pay for it by sheltering them,” she said. “And eventually, it would cost less if we could get them sheltered and at least partially financially independent, you know, having some employment. Because it’s a lot easier to work when you have a place to go at night, have a place to store your stuff. You can sleep, you can shower. All of those are barriers to employment.”

WU student enrollment down, effects felt across campus

Enrollment declines and the resulting losses in tuition revenue at Winthrop have impacted the campus community in a number of ways, including a reduction in the number of faculty, a decrease in the number of classes available and a decline in the quality of services offered to students (photo: Palmetto Report staff).

(Rock Hill, S.C.) – Student enrollment at Winthrop University is down by almost 500 students since the 2017-2018 school year, which has led to budget cuts, layoffs and smaller course sizes across campus, impacting faculty, staff and students in many ways.

Winthrop — like many schools — is heavily dependent on enrollment, as tuition makes up the majority of the university’s revenue and it’s estimated to be 67.5% of fiscal year 2022’s overall budget, according to Associate Vice President for Finance and Business Jeremy Whitaker. Tuition made up 70% of the overall budget in fiscal year 2018.

Winthrop’s operating revenue — once $122.5M in fiscal year 2018 — dropped by 7.8% to an estimated operating revenue of $113M in fiscal year 2022.

To offset the difference in revenue, the university has asked asked faculty and staff to leave, allowed contracts to expire and permanently retired positions after those holding the positions leave or retire.

“The goal of the university is to match revenue and expenses every year. In fiscal year 2020, compensation was 78.5% of the divisional allocations, therefore, as revenues have gone down, the university has had to reduce expenses by making tough decisions,” Whitaker said.

Staff members have been let go at a higher rate than faculty, but faculty at the lower end of the hierarchy, like adjunct professors, also have to worry about their positions, according to Brandon Ranallo-Benavidez, assistant professor of political science.

According to Ranallo-Benavidez, the large number of staff members let go will have effects throughout the university.

“We need to have instructors, of course, but also, we’re a liberal arts college, and so we need to have the whole scope of wraparound services. So whenever we’re seeing people, like the staff members, be . . . let go or having their positions unfilled once they leave voluntarily, it causes problems that then reverberate throughout the whole system,” Ranallo-Benavidez said.

Quality of Services

Infrastructure has been identified by students and staff as a campus problem that needs to be addressed immediately.

James Grigg, associate vice president of facilities management, held a talk on Oct. 20 about ongoing projects and the issues facilities management knows about.

WU Students for Change, a campus advocacy group, held a protest on Dec. 3 demanding, among other things, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance and the removal of mold from residence halls.

On Tik Tok, the account “WU Anarchist Student Society” posted a video showing what appears to be mold in a shower, mushrooms growing out of a carpet and rotten wood on the outside of buildings, among other things.

Text on the video reads “Winthrop University is the most expensive public college in S.C. This is what we are paying for…” The post has over 292,000 views and 39,000 likes.

According to Whitaker, “Finance and facilities have been working diligently to address the deferred maintenance needs of the University. The University currently has roughly 17 projects with costs over $35 million that will be executed over the next two to three years. In addition, we received another $9 million of renewal replacement funds from the state in fiscal year 2022.”

He said those funds would be used to upgrade classrooms, update cameras, to improve Winthrop’s network and complete other technology projects.

Fewer Services

Counseling Services is another point of concern according to WU Students for Change.

“We demand that Winthrop University expand its mental health resources, including the onboarding of better, more inclusive, and more sensitive therapists and counselors in the Health and Counseling department, to ensure that students have access to the care they need. Students shouldn’t be waiting months for counseling appointments,” the group said, in a petition posted on

According to Gretchen Baldwin, the clinical coordinator for Counseling Services, her and her staff are at capacity, despite appointments being down by almost 50% since fall 2019. 

“Everybody is absolutely at capacity. Like we’re plugging people into our case management time. And, you know, we just can’t really add more in a day,” Baldwin said. “In an ethical and responsible way, you know, there’s only so many people that you can treat in a day and still have the resources internally to continue to provide good treatment.”

Counseling Services uses a same day model to appointments, meaning a student can get an appointment on the same day they contact Counseling Services for help. 

“We have that model because in the past prior to that, somebody would have to wait two to three weeks before an intake session,” Baldwin said. “We transitioned to a same day model of intake because it’s really more of like a get your foot in the door kind of an assessment type appointment.

“Then we can – based on what the person is needing and their level of clinical urgency – we can either schedule them for another same day that week or help get them connected to the community or schedule them for the next available appointment.”

Baldwin said she is looking to hire a new counselor with a multicultural specialty to replace a staff member who left at the end of October. 

“The goal of that position is to provide focused outreach to the community especially targeted at BIPOC students and be able to reduce stigma and encourage, you know, representation among our staff members in order to kind of allow people to feel safe and comfortable coming into counseling services and to feel heard and seen in a comfortable way,” Baldwin said.

She believes this vacancy, as well as a lack of Office of Victim Assistance (OVA) counselors, has contributed to the high work load for her and her staff.

“I think some of this may be reflected by OVA counseling, in that we had three individuals practicing in OVA counseling in 2019 who looked like two full time staff members as far as hours went,” Baldwin said. “OVA experienced 100% turnover because staff members were overworked. And so we’ve really tried to be very, very cautious with staff self care in OVA to protect their well being. And now we only have the one and the part time person, but we will soon have two full time people there”

To be able to grow, Baldwin said her department would need a mix of resources.

“The university would need to be able to identify a full time staff members salaries, salary and benefits. And we would need space. We don’t have space to grow here in this building,” Baldwin said.

Fewer Classes Available

Budget concerns are not the only negative impact of declining enrollment.

Faculty have to worry about meeting enrollment quotas in the courses they teach. If a course has less than 12 students enrolled, it is possible the course will be canceled for the semester. 

“Courses that previously would never have an issue getting enough students to actually enroll in them for them to make. . . the minimum,” Ranallo-Benavidez said. “You could probably look through the spring of 22 course catalog right now and see dozens if not even close to 100 courses across the university, that should have at least 12 and don’t.”

In the political science department alone, over 30% of courses have less than the 12 required students enrolled at time of writing.

Ranallo-Benavidez said this is the first semester he won’t meet his four course requirement for his tenure track. 

“I’ve never had an issue up until now. Next semester, my second section of American government – because I’m supposed to be teaching two of them,” Ranallo-Benavidez said. “The first one has 20-something, it’s fine. The second section only has seven, and so I don’t think it’s going to end up making. So that’ll be the first time for me that one of my four courses… is not probably going to have high enough enrollment to make.”

Students could also be impacted by this change, as the classes they intended to take could be changed last minute due to low enrollment.

However, Ranallo-Benavidez said at least in the College of Arts and Sciences, exceptions will be given to graduating students.

“If a course is required for a student to graduate, and they are graduating that semester, you can either make a petition to run the course under enrolled. So if you have like a senior capstone, and it only has 10 in it instead of 12, you can submit a petition, it’ll probably pass to teach it,” Ranallo-Benavidez said. “And then if it’s only one or two people, like it’s a really low enrollment, then you can (make it an) independent study, so that student could do an independent study with you.”

Competition for Undeclared Students

Competition is heating up between departments, according to Ranallo-Benavidez, to draw students into certain majors while making sure to not discourage other majors.

“So every undeclared student is going to be a free for all, in our especially those general education courses at the lowest levels, things like American government for political science, or, you know, intro to sociology or psychology or some of these other similarly situated majors, there’s going to be a lot of pressure to try to pull those students into your own courses,” Ranallo-Benavidez said.

“I think… it’s going to be more like, ‘please, consider our courses, come take them with us. And if you’ve enjoyed this class, consider declaring a major or a second major or a minor,’ and those types of things, really pushing students into your courses.”

If a major consistently has it’s classes canceled due to low enrollment, it is possible that major will be changed into a program, only offering minors or only being a part of an individualized study, while some departments may also be fused with others, resulting in combined majors and classes.

Enrollment & Retention Declines

Enrollment has two factors to consider: (1) the number of new students arriving on campus and (2) the number of students that return.

The Office of Admissions is in charge of attracting, recruiting and accepting new students. From there, University College is in charge of student retention by helping students academically stay on track.

During the fall semester 2017, Winthrop had 5,014 undergraduate students enrolled. By the fall semester 2021, that number had dropped to 3,973 undergraduate students enrolled, a decline of 1,041 or almost 21%.

Freshman enrollment matches this trend, with 1,050 freshman enrolled in 2017, but that number dropped to 818 freshman enrolled in 2021; a dip of 22%.

Joseph Miller, Vice President for Enrollment Management and Marketing, said changing demographics and economic downturn were already impacting the number of students looking to go to college, and the COVID-19 pandemic have made these problems worse. 

“COVID-19 really accelerated what we saw coming. What many people would have anticipated, not for another five years, and some pretty steep enrollment declines across the country, and particularly within South Carolina,” Miller said. “90% of our students … at Winthrop University are from the state of South Carolina. So it’s really important that we monitor the metrics and this you know, sort of the landscape of what’s happening in the state but also understanding how some of our out of state primary markets are working as well.”

Competition for New Students

The number of high school graduates was projected to rise until the 2025-2026 school year, and then begin to lower again. However, the number of high school graduates do not always correlate with the number of graduates looking to go to college, especially during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I think COVID proved to us that that decline that some call it the demographic cliff, that demographic cliff actually got scooted five years forward now. And it’s not because of any change in the number of students who graduated high school, I think it has everything to do with the fact of the changes in family finances,” Miller said. “A lot of families, you know, parents were furloughed, they were unemployed or underemployed. So any sort of family reserves financially, aren’t being prioritized for higher education right now.”

Outside competition is also contributing to lower enrollment, according to Miller.

South Carolina is the only state in the Southeast that is projected to grow in the number of college-going students. In addition, the Charlotte metropolitan area is one of only four metropolitan areas in the country expected to grow greater than 7.5% in college-going students. 

“So the competition has become increasingly competitive and fierce for students in South Carolina,” Miller said. “It’s the ultimate zero sum game, right, if other colleges pull market share away from Winthrop University, that’s fewer students that the university has to recruit.”

The number of freshman enrolled did increase in 2019, which Miller attributes to new technology.

“The college at that point realized that it needed to make some investments in technology. That was the 2017-2018 year, which didn’t get fully implemented until 2019,” Miller said.

“As the new guy, having looked at the past couple years of admission, financial aid and enrollment trend history for Winthrop. I have no doubt that fall 2020 was on record to be the absolute very best year in freshmen enrollment for Winthrop University,” Miller said.

Student retention has similarly suffered. 468 students enrolled in spring 2021 did not return in fall 2021, with only 67, or 14%, indicating they would be transferring. This is up from last year, when 429 students enrolled in spring 2020 did not return in fall 2020. 

Vice Provost for Student Success and Dean of University College Jamie Cooper said he believes this drop is mostly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, despite prior drops.

“I would say, the last three years, we have been at about 69% retention rate. And so this year went down to 67.9%. So we went down two points,” Cooper said. “I think that was definitely an impact of COVID. But I think we fared better in terms of the declines that we saw than many other institutions did.”

Previous drops, Cooper said, can be explained by the lack of programs, like the Learning Excellence Academic Practice (LEAP) program. According to Winthrop’s website, the program “is designed to assist students in making a successful transition from high school to college” and “provides academic guidance and support to a select group of freshman students at Winthrop University.”

“So we have reinstated that program for this year. And that program was not active the past few years when we saw the lower levels of retention in our freshmen students. So we’re hoping that some of the technology, some of the new outreach that we’re doing and also that program in particular is going to help us improve our retention going forward,” Cooper said.

Efforts to Improve Retention

Cooper recently submitted a request to administration and the Board of Trustees to purchase a retention platform, as Winthrop is one of only two public institutions in South Carolina that does not already have one. The retention of 13 additional students would pay the annual cost of this platform. 

“On our side, we can see: Which students are going to aren’t going to class? Who’s not enrolled? Who’s not advised? When we see a student who is in distress, we can actually see all the information about the students. So we can see: Who’s their professors? Do they live in the residence hall? Which residence hall is it? Are they in TRiO? Are they an athlete? 

“So right now, all those pieces of information about a student are in different places. So nowhere does all the information exist about a student. And these are systems that really pull all that information together,” Cooper said.

To drive applications for the Fall 2022 semester, the Board of Trustees allocated $500,000 to University Communications and Marketing to “do a multi-phase marketing campaign to help generate more applications, to help foster relationships with students and also to assist with student retention,” according to Miller. 

A campaign is already underway in the Columbia area, where $50,000 was used to create billboards, targeted digital advertisement and direct mailing campaigns. Miller said he believes the efforts undertaken, such as new admission policies and the marketing campaign, have already had an impact on future enrollment. 

“We’ve made some changes in the way that we’re admitting students this year. So in previous years, the college didn’t start admitting students until Dec. 1, but we’ve accelerated that timeline, and we began admitting students at Oct. 15 for this upcoming year.” Miller said. “So currently, we’re at 24% ahead on admissions for this upcoming year than we were at this point in time last year for our fall 2021 class.”

This story was written for and posted to The Palmetto Report on Feb 2, 2022.

Cultivate RH secures land deal walking distance from campus

Plans for Cultivate RH’s future location (photo: Courtesy of Brittany Kelly).

Cultivate Rock Hill, a nonprofit organization which looks to provide a location and training to local entrepreneurs, signed a land deal with Freedom Temple Ministries and can now begin planning and building its restaurant and retail “incubator space.” The site will be located on West White Street between Lee Street and Stuart Avenue. 

The organization was founded by Charlotte Brown, adjunct professor of management and marketing and member of the Rock Hill Economic and Development Committee, and Brittany Kelly, owner of the Mercantile, to foster economic development in Rock Hill by offering an affordable location and training for local entrepreneurs to open unique businesses. 

According to its website, “Cultivate RH will offer a 2 year program called S.E.E.D. (Supporting Entrepreneurs + Economic Development). In this program, entrepreneurs will learn all the necessary skills to open a business. Classes in financing, marketing, economics and networking will be offered as key to set them on the path for success.”

Kelly said the project is focused on diversity, with over 50% of the spaces leased out to people of color. 

“That’s one of our biggest hurdles that we want to make sure that we can figure out, because back when I was head on into the Black Lives Matter movement, I realized there were only two downtown businesses owned by Black people, ” Kelly said. “And it just, like, killed me. And we’ve just got to figure out: what is that? And I think, ultimately, it’s the cost of rent.”

Rent will be intentionally kept low: $500 a month for retail, $1,000 a month for restaurants. After the two year S.E.E.D. program, the organization will help renters get a more permanent location in Rock Hill. 

Brown, who received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Winthrop and is currently pursuing a doctorate in business administration at Northcentral University, said she went to Kelly with an idea for a entrepreneurship training program because she felt Winthrop’s program wasn’t doing enough. 

“We have a culture of entrepreneurship in the city, but Winthrop’s entrepreneurship program in my opinion needed some more work to it, like the entrepreneurship culture that’s in the city and what exists at Winthrop don’t match,” Brown said.

Cultivate RH’s original planning was delayed due to a previous land deal which fell through. At that location, it planned to have 23 restaurants and retail locations in a shipping container development, which uses shipping containers instead of custom built structures to lower cost. At the new location, however, Cultivate RH’s Facebook page said it will have three times the space and double the entrepreneurs as originally planned. 

Brown hopes the organization will be able to partner with Winthrop to provide new opportunities to students, such as sponsoring a shipping container space for a student who wins an entrepreneurship contest.

“With entrepreneurship students, if you don’t have the funding, when you get finished, then you pretty much just have a business idea that’s going nowhere, because funding is very hard to find. So if we’re already on the front end, saying, if you win this competition, you can go into the space and grow your business there for two, three years,” Brown said. 

Kelly said she and Brown want this location to be more than just a place of business, but also a community center.

“Not only is it going to just be an incubator for entrepreneurship, it’s also going to be a community hub. So we have a fitness center in there. We have an EA Games Center in there. We have a community garden,” Kelly said. “And then we want to be able to feature local bands, local groups. I mean, we just want this whole hub and sense of community.”

The new location is being leased from Freedom Temple Ministries, a local “aggregation of multicultural believers,” which Kelly said will be more than just a landlord for the organization.

“They will be our landlord in this, but also a little bit more. They want to be a part of this. They want to sponsor some of our entrepreneurs,” Kelly said. “But we’ll treat it just like a regular landlord lessee agreement. However, we just are thankful that they have a lot of the same visions, and they align with what we’re trying to do, as well, in the community.”

While they have to revisit the plans, and may have to change direction slightly due to the rising cost of shipping containers, get permits from the city and build the site, Kelly said she believes it will be built and ready by, at the latest, fall or winter 2022.

This story was written for and published in The Johnsonian on Nov. 17.

WU to spend $1.2 million to remove oil tanks from campus

A project is underway to remove the large tanks containing number six fuel oil, which sit near the central energy plant. The fuel was previously used when natural gas was unavailable (photo: Christian Smith).

Winthrop University is working on a plan to remove large fuel tanks that sit near the school’s Central Energy Plant, which creates steam that heats most buildings on campus. In the past, the fuel in these tanks has been used when natural gas was unavailable to heat the water, but the university wants to move away from using it.

“So the fuel tanks they’re number six fuel oil, which is basically a marginally processed crude oil, so it’s very dirty, has a lot of impurities in it. So when it burns, it burns with a very dark black thick smoke, which is not ideal in 2021 to be putting out of your smokestacks,” James Grigg, assistant vice president of facilities management, said. “So as a kind of project, we want to get rid of the fuel oil tanks and transition the boilers to a cleaner fuel source.”

The project to remove the tanks will cost an estimated $1.2 million, which the university received from the state earlier this year. Initial steps have already been taken, such as cutting back bushes to uncover the piping, hiring a consultant to test materials and planning for the removal of the tanks.

“It will probably be over the next year-and-a-half and in total to get to a clean site,” Grigg said. “Once we got the tanks and the pits removed, we’ll work on a landscaping plan and a redevelopment plan for the area.”

The university’s natural gas contract with the York County Natural Gas Authority was written to ensure a low rate for the university. In exchange, the company is able to shut off the gas flow to the university if the price goes above a certain threshold in a process is known as curtailment. In the 1960s, the oil tanks were installed to provide a backup power source during a curtailment.

If a curtailment occurs after the tanks are removed, the university can pay a penalty to continue to use the natural gas, reduce select heating loads on campus, such as turning off the heat to the pool, or use an electric boiler. The boiler, however, is expensive to run and will only provide steam to a portion of the campus. Depending on the specifics of the curtailment, such as expected duration and gas limits, one or more options may be utilized.

It is still possible for the university to use the fuel to power the plant, due to a permit issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). However, the university hasn’t done so since the last curtailment in 2012.

“While this still is a viable source to use, it’s just Winthrop trying to be environmentally conscious,” said Steven Moseley, environmental health manager. “Since my arrival here on campus – I realize that I’ve only been here a little over a year-and-a-half – at that time I identified this as one of the projects that we need to work towards removing.”

The tanks are regularly maintained to avoid leaks or spills. If a tank were to begin to leak, large pits that surround the tanks would catch any oil and automatic shut off valves would activate.

A leak would be relatively easy to manage due to the high viscosity of the oil. In order to get the oil to flow into pipes, steam would need to be introduced to heat up the oil. Therefore, according to Grigg and Chris Johnson, sustainability coordinator, there is very low chance of a spill.

“So with the number six (fuel oil), it would be a slow, if there was a leak, it’d be a slow process, and we’d be able to manage it very quickly and address it,” Johnson said. “It’s not like oil in the ocean that leaks, where you’ve got all this water and it kind of moves the oil around. It’s not quite that serious, but definitely something that we want to be ahead of.”

Test wells will be drilled around the tanks to ensure there have been no underground leaks. While above ground leaks could be dealt with relatively easily, underground leaks could have long term environmental implications.

“There’s definitely concerns with water quality, seeping into the ground, but that would take a long period of time,” Johnson said. “One example is old gas stations. A lot of old gas stations still have monitoring wells because they’re testing, making sure the soil that’s been contaminated, it’s not spreading, because it’s a very slow process for that to spread.”

Ava Senyard, sophomore dual environmental studies and political science major, said she has only heard the oil tanks mentioned in one of her environmental studies classes.

“It was not really a detailed conversation, it was a brief mention that we still had oil tanks, which is a notable thing for a campus to be having,” Senyard said. “The professor was like, ‘And by the way, we still have these oil tanks, because it is a fossil fuel emission as well as a crude oil.’ So it was just a notable part of our subject.”

She expressed frustration with what she said was Winthrop’s contradiction of being an environmentally friendly campus and maintaining oil reserves.

“It makes me a little unhappy with it, especially because Winthrop does sort of advertise itself as an environmentally friendly campus and tries to push that narrative. However, they still have natural fuel resources,” Senyard said. “Even though I do know that they are trying to get it off campus, it is something that definitely makes me a little bit unhappy with supporting the campus that is still using them.”

Senyard said she knows the people currently working to remove the tanks have not been at Winthrop very long and she is happy people are finally looking into it.

“That does mean that the current people that are working on it are definitely invested and interested in the topic. And I think that that’s very important in trying to improve that situation. But it is interesting that there hadn’t really been much of a change up until that point as it probably wasn’t a priority of Winthrop,” she said.

This story was written for and posted to The Palmetto Report on Dec. 1, 2021.

Shepard Fairey paints mural in old town, gets student help

Shepard Fairey standing in front of his mural (photo: Abbey Kirkland, Charlotte area resident)

Shepard Fairey, contemporary street artist best known for his Obama “Hope” poster and the OBEY GIANT art project, was in Rock Hill last week to install a mural. Fairey has multiple connections to the area, including his grandfather, Charles Shepard Davis, who served as Winthrop University’s president from 1959 to 1973.

The mural, which is located on the future location of The Mercantile at the corner of East White Street and South Oakland Avenue, was installed with help from Winthrop students from Oct. 16 to Oct. 18. The mural is split into several sections, including a portrait taken by photographer Jim Marshall.

“Jim Marshall was documenting the peace movement from the beginning of the 1960s to the end of the Vietnam War, and in the original image, you can actually see like a handmade peace sign that she’s cut out and has pinned to her jacket,” Fairey said. “Her face was going to be too small in relation to the mural, so I just excluded that but included her looking in the same direction as the peace dove flying forward.”

A portrait of a peace advocate, based on a photo by Jim Marshall, comprises a large portion of the mural (photo: Emma Crouch, The Johnsonian).

Other sections include specific imagery from Rock Hill’s past, but morphed into what Fairey said he wants for the future of Rock Hill.

“I like the idea of looking at these elements from history and then saying, ‘How do you push forward with it all?’’’ Fairey said. “So the train, I’ve got the Freedom Rides into the future, which is both an idea of looking back to the Freedom Riders and the history of civil rights, and then how civil rights is [an] ongoing battle for improvement, but you keep pushing into the future.”

The cost of the mural was $35,000, but was paid entirely by private money, meaning no tax dollars were put towards its funding. According to Brittany Kelly, owner of the Mercantile, Catalysts Capital Partners paid about $22,500, the Women’s Art Initiative paid about $7,500 and the Barre Mitchell Community Initiatives Fund, set up by the Rock Hill Economic Development Corporation, paid about $5,000.

On Oct. 16, a reception and art exhibit took place at the future location of the Mercantile to welcome Fairey to the city, as well as to open the temporary art exhibit of Fairey’s work in the space. The exhibit will run Oct. 17 to Oct. 31, Wednesday to Sunday, 4 p.m. to 8 pm. 

Shepard Fairey (center, back) in front of his collage in the upcoming Mercantile location, speaking to members of the Women’s Art Initiative at the reception and art exhibit on Oct. 16 (photo: Abbey Kirkland, Charlotte area resident)

The event was attended by representatives from the sponsors of the mural, John Gettys, mayor of Rock Hill, many of the muralists who have done work in Rock Hill and many others from the area.  

It took Fairey and his team only three days to fully install the mural, but Fairey said he only expected to take that long.

“I’ve done enough murals to know generally how long it will take me to do a mural based on the size and the detail in the mural. And I estimated that this mural would take two and a half to three days,” Fairey said.

His speed can be attributed to his style, which is to design the mural beforehand, print it out on large sheets of paper, and cut away pieces to act as a stencil.

The mural on Saturday, Oct. 16 (photo: Abbey Kirkland, Charlotte area resident)

“[T]he main thing that it takes is just a lot of elbow grease. It’s a lot of just blue collar hard work because we’re using a one use giant stencil, basically, where the image has been printed out in grayscale on thin sheets of paper 36 inches wide by about four feet tall,” Fairey said. “And then those are put up a few at a time, and we cut and then spray and then remove the negative space.”

Fairey is a native of South Carolina and has more than one strong connection to Winthrop. In addition to his grandfather being president in the 60s and early 70s, many of Fairey’s family and close friends, including his lead art assistant Nick Bowers, graduated from Winthrop. He even got a little bit of a Winthrop education himself.

“Edmund Lewandowski, who was the head of the art department, great painter, precisionist painter, he used to give me some critiques on my portfolio back when I was in middle school and high school,” said Fairey. 

Winthrop students were able to help in the creation of the mural. Elizabeth Dulemba, associate professor of illustration, introduced several of her students, Adam Seats, Erin Springs-McCottry, James Poston and Griffin Douglas, to Fairey at the reception and art exhibit. 

“While I’ll take credit for introducing them all, it was Adam who stepped up and asked Shepard if he needed any help. To which Shepard immediately replied, ‘Yes, show up at noon tomorrow!’” Dulemba said in an email. “I could have helped, but was content to watch my students experience this amazing opportunity.”

Seats, a sophomore illustration major, said working with Fairey has opened his eyes to how easy it can be to talk to professional artists, even those who are well known.

“[T]here’s some impression that anybody that has any kind of fame to them is just going to be like, ‘No, please don’t speak to me’ or ‘I’ve heard this question a million times’ or whatever, because you’re not going to ask anything super unique,” Seats said. “But yeah, he was just super nice, which was really refreshing . . . I think after that, it got me to speak a lot more to the other artists around.”

Shepard Fairey signing a baby’s helmet (photo: Abbey Kirkland, Charlotte area resident).

Springs-McCottry, a junior illustration major, said the experience of working with Fairey has already opened doors for her.

“I had a lecture class today and our artist that came in was a muralist. So . . . immediately I was like, okay, I have to get in here somehow. Especially because I’m not exactly sure what I want to do,” Springs-McCottry said. “I definitely, obviously want to do art, but like, murals are cool. Public art is really interesting. So I was like, I can get in here. So just by having a little bit of experience and being able to kind of name drop a little bit got me some sort of contact with her. So [I’m] looking forward to possibly working with her next year.”

Kelly said her building was chosen because Fairey liked the size and shape of the wall, as well as the location. She said the mural will bring tourists, and with it, money, into town, something she has seen firsthand.

“[J]ust this past week we met people that drove from Dallas, from Chattanooga, Tennessee [and] from Asheville. We had a call yesterday from somebody in Florida that was going to drive up,” she said. “You know, the last Shepard Fairey mural I saw was in Paris. So you know, it’s just a humbling experience to have it here. And I think people will take advantage of making that great drive, and then the economic impact that’s gonna have on us too is going to be awesome.”

In addition to the mural outside her store, Fairey gifted Kelly a collage on an inner wall of her new building, where his exhibit is currently taking place. 

“That was a nice surprise that Shepard gave to me,” Kelly said. “Trust me, if and when we ever leave that building, I’ll be cutting that wall out.”

Fairey’s mural joins several others in the RHEDC Mural Mile, which “is an initiative that engages the Rock Hill community and local artists in the design and installation of 8-10 murals on various buildings throughout Rock Hill’s downtown and textile corridor within a one-mile radius,” according to the Only In Old Town website. 

This story was written for and published in The Johnsonian on Oct. 27.

Rock Hill’s ‘Mural Mile’ brings art to Old Town

“Dreamer,” Darion Fleming’s contribution to the Mural Mile, is located at Overhead Station at 212 E. Main St. in Rock Hill. According to his Instagram, Fleming wanted “this piece to act as a reminder that children should always be encouraged to create. A child’s dreams are fabricated through an imagination that feeds off creativity and it can all start with a crayon” (photo: Christian Smith).

The Mural Mile initiative looks to provide funds and opportunities for local artists to create public murals around downtown Rock Hill, which organizers say they hope will improve the quality of life in the city.

The project, part of the Knowledge Park Action Plan by the Rock Hill Economic Development Corporation, has completed nine murals, with five more awaiting completion.

Artists both locally and internationally known have come to work on the project. Osiris Rain, who was classically trained in Italy and Norway and is the founder of Osiris Rain Studios and the North Carolina Academy of Art, was the first to complete a mural for the project.

Audio Wrap: Rock Hill’s ‘Mural Mile’ brings art to Old Town

Before painting murals, he was a scenic painter for the film industry, but after his film company moved, he decided he wanted to do something a little different.

“When I was a scenic (painter), that was the first time I had painted murals and the visceral experience of being able to paint, but also be outdoors, also interact with the public, is just far more gratifying than sitting in a dark room in front of an easel. So it was an easy choice for me,” Rain said.

While some artists have had to apply to be a part of the project, Rain was contacted by the Economic Development Corporation because of his previous work.

“Originally, Shepard Fairey was going to be doing the first one. He had to cancel…so I got to swoop in and steal his thunder. Only because I was a local and I didn’t have to travel from (Los Angeles),” Rain said. “They saw a piece I did up here in Charlotte, in the NoDa Arts District, and they really liked the general vibe of that. So I designed one specifically for Rock Hill.”

Rain’s mural, “Warehouses on White,” was completed in April 2020 and is located at the Dust Off Brewing Co.

Other community members also had a hand in the creation of murals, like Brittney Kelly, owner of The Mercantile, who lead the change on the “No Room for Racism” road mural outside her store. The mural depicts the Friendship Nine, civil rights pioneers who were jailed in Rock Hill.

The spider lilly, a rare flower that grows along the Catawba River, is featured at the center of Osiris Rain’s contribution to the Rock Hill Mural Mile. The mural is located on the side of the Dust Off Brewing Co. at 130 W. White St. in Rock Hill (photo: Christian Smith).

“You know, after sitting down and speaking with a neighbor who is a dentist here in town, but she happens to be an incredible artist…the Friendship Nine came into our head.” Kelly said. “And it was more, for us…about the education component. That I just truly think there are so many people who live in this town that know nothing about the sit in at the counter or that John Lewis came through here and was beaten at our bus stop here.”

Kelly said, despite approval for the mural from the city, they still encountered a lot of bureaucratic issues.

“We were the first to do a road mural in the city of Rock Hill. So, it just kind of threw everybody for a tailspin as far as the ordinances and the planning and zoning,” Kelly said. “At first, they were completely okay with us crossing the lines. And then they day we are painting, we got kind of like a cease and desist not to cross the yellow line. But it was already approved and kind of on the paperwork, so we just continued forward with it.”

The next mural going up will be by Shepard Fairey, who will be in Rock Hill Oct. 15-19. A reception is planned to take place on Oct. 16.

Knowledge Park, the plan under which the Mural Mile falls, is “a walkable, multi-faceted district of Rock Hill that will build a modern economy, and reinvent the original heart of Rock Hill,” according to the Knowledge Park website.

Cathy Murphy, downtown development manager at the Economic Development Corporation, said the Mural Mile was a part of Knowledge Park’s plan to “placemake.”

“A plan came together to bring residents and interested parties to put together a strategy for downtown development in Rock Hill, and that’s where the Knowledge Park Action Plan came from,” Murphy said. “There were nine strategic areas that came out of that…one of them was jobs and employment, one of them was development and one of them was placemaking.”

Placemaking, as defined by the Public Square, a journal by the Congress for the New Urbanism, in an article titled “Four Types of Placemaking,” is “ the process of creating quality places that people want to live, work, play and learn in.”

Other similar efforts include the Power of Art Mural Project, which aims to “spruce up” power and utility boxes with murals, and the Walk of Art Mural Project, which looks to “help create a lively pedestrian experience” with murals painted on downtown crosswalks, according to the “Mural Mile” how-to guide.

This story was written for and posted to the Palmetto Report on Sept. 29, 2021.