Nov. 13, 2018
Major Steptoe shares his story of living homeless in Hickory and finding hope at the Hickory Soup Kitchen.
Hungry and homeless, looking for a hand up
BY JOHN BAILEY
For the last four months Major Steptoe, 58, has been homeless in Hickory, bouncing from shelters to the streets.
In that time, he’s had to have seven of his teeth pulled and had a bout with pneumonia. He’s slept in the rain, in the cold but he still has a reason to smile – the Hickory Soup Kitchen.
It’s important to have at least one person believe in you, and he said he’s found several at the soup kitchen.
“Keep your donations coming because it provides a lot of hot meals, clothing and it provides hope for people who feel like they’re on their last footing in life,” he said.
Steptoe is one of many homeless in Catawba County and an example of why the National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness started Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week in 1975.
Their goal was to raise awareness of these issues across the country the week prior to Thanksgiving and inspire more people to get involved in trying to help, according to hhweek.org.
“Nobody deserves to feel hopeless…but some people just don’t care. They stick their nose up at you and look at you like you’re trash,” Steptoe said. “We’re all human. God put us here to love one another, help one another.”
In Catawba County there are many resources like the Hickory Soup Kitchen who help create an immediate bridge between needs and resources.
Then there is the Housing Visions Continuum of Care group made up of several local agencies and programs who address the overall picture of hunger and homelessness in the county.
One of these agencies is the Western Piedmont Council of Governments (WPCOG). It deals with helping those in need find affordable housing, an issue their addressing this Thursday with its annual Landlord Information Workshop.
The housing market has changed considerably in recent years. Regional Housing Authority Specialist Kala Guido has seen the number of people who get a housing voucher compared to the number who actually use them decrease in the last four years. The numbers have gone from 34 percent to 15 percent.
“A lot of the times the reason they’re not submitting any paperwork on where to live is because they can’t find something affordable or they can’t find someone who accepts a voucher at all,” Guido said.
There are 1,074 vouchers allocated this year for all four counties.
Guido said the problem is the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) hasn’t increased its standards in several years while the fair market rent has gone up.
It’s hard to ask someone to rent their unit for $800 when their mortgage is $850.
One way the WPCOG works to increase the number of landlords and renting agencies who accept Section 8 housing choice vouchers is through its landlord workshop. For more information call 828-485-4282.
Between the four counties, the housing authority pays between 500 and 600 landlords every month.
Last year, more than 8,000 calls were placed to the United Way’s 2-1-1 community help line asking for information about low-cost housing and more than 11,000 calls were made about shelters, according to nc.211counts.org.
To help understand the scope of the issue in the county, the Housing Visions Continuum of Care is preparing to conduct the annual count of homeless individuals. It’s an attempt at collecting data to identify gaps in services as well as barriers that prevent individuals and families from becoming successfully housed, according to a Housing Visions release.
During the process, homeless individuals and families are provided with some much-needed items which are collected from the community. For more information about making a donation, call the Catawba County United Way at 828-327-6851 or Partners Behavioral Health Management at 828-323-8084.
According to last year’s count, there were 283 homeless individuals living in the county.
Steptoe doesn’t hesitate to explain how he got to where he is, living on the streets. He had a drug problem that took control of his life. He admits there were times when he felt like throwing in the towel, but he found help.
It was just a month ago when he walked past a local church one evening and it was having a service on exposing your inner enemies and something compelled him to go to the church and dedicate his life to Christ.
“Don’t treat me like a piece of dirt. I may be dirty but I’m not a piece of dirt,” he said. “I greet everybody with a smile and a kind of word. You never know but that kind word at that moment may uplift that person and give them hope.”
DSS Meals on Wheels:828-695-5610
Greater Hickory Cooperative Christian Ministry: 828-327-0979
Eastern Catawba Cooperative Christian Ministries: 828-465-1702
Good Samaritan Food Pantry – Mt. Pisgah Church: 828-495-8251
Crisis Pantry – Women’s Resource Center: 828-322-6333
Christian Community Outreach Ministries (by appointment only): 828-328-1803
Sherrills Ford Community Food Pantry and Clothes Closet: 828-478-9625
Salvation Army – Shelter of Hope, breakfast and dinner: 828-322-8061
Hickory Soup Kitchen: 828-327-4828
The Corner Table Soup Kitchen (Newton): 828-464-0355
Safe Harbor Rescue Mission (women and children only): 828-326-7233
Highways and Hedges Ministry: twice monthly dinner meeting with a gospel message and distribution of free groceries or toiletries/cleaning supplies, 828-781-8095/highwaysandhedgesnc.com
Salvation Army: 828-322-8061
Family Guidance Center (domestic violence shelter for women): 828-228-1787
Safe Harbor Rescue Mission (day only/women and children only): 828-326-7233
Exodus Homes (men or women exiting treatment programs or prison): 828-324-4870
Sipe’s Orchard Home (homeless teens): 828-256-5056
Western Piedmont Council of Governments (HUD Section 8): 828-322-9191
Family Care Center (families with children/emergency and transitional residential program): 828-324-9917 or fcchickory.org.
National Center for Homeless Veterans: 1-877-424-3838
City of Hickory Public Housing Authority: 828-328-5373
NC Housing Search: www.nchousingsearch.org
General Help Line: United Way, dial 2-1-1 or visit NC211.org