Richard Stalvey used to wait until fast-food restaurants closed and then go in search of dropped change under the drive-thru windows. He'd spend his nights inside a laundromat, abandoned houses or in the woods.

Stalvey was homeless.

He experienced sexual abuse as a child, which caused him to suffer a lifetime of post-traumatic stress disorder. Then, after heart bypass surgery and back surgery, he ended up on the street when staying with his sister was no longer an option.

Like many others, though, he ended up finding the Greenwood Pathway House and got his life back on track.

Pathway House is the only provider of homeless shelter and support for children and adults in the Lakelands region of South Carolina.

About Pathway House

From 2017-19, Pathway House served 1,044 clients, with 327 obtaining housing and 311 obtaining employment. More than 170 entered alcohol and drug programs.

The men’s shelter is a 35-bed facility. The shelter for women and mothers with children has 12 beds for women and four beds for children. Both provide one-on-one case management and trauma-informed care.

The “Furnishing a Future” job-readiness program allows men in the shelter to build work ethic and psychological resilience. They make breadboards, crosses, benches and refurnish future. The “Clothing a Future” job-readiness program allows women to work in the Pathway Thrift Store and gain retail work experience.

Pathway House also offers a “Homeless to Career” program, which includes the ready-to-work program at Piedmont Technical College.

The homeless shelter partners with more than 100 agencies and receives all of its funding from donations.

A little help from a friend

Pathway House works with Meg’s House, an agency whose mission is to provide housing and supportive services to reduce the impact of domestic violence and chronic homelessness in Greenwood, Abbeville, McCormick, Edgefield and Saluda counties.

“Pathway House and Meg’s House have a great relationship,” said Candace Timmerman, director of housing programs at Meg’s House.

Meg’s House provides emergency refuge for victims of domestic violence and their dependent children, a transitional housing program for domestic violence victims and their dependent children and two permanent, supportive housing programs (Project HOPE and Operation Impact) for those experiencing chronic homelessness with a disability.

“Many times men, women and children who are participants at Pathway House exit the shelter setting into our housing programs,” Timmerman said. “This is great because Pathway House continues to extend and offer that sense of community to the residents.”

Meg’s House also has monthly meetings of the Upstate Continuum of Care, formerly known as the Upstate Homeless Coalition, in which the Pathway House plays a very active role. The mission of the chapter of the Upstate Continuum of Care is to work together to end homelessness through education, direct services and advocacy.

Homelessness

by the numbersNinety-three percent of homeless people have a history of complex trauma, with 85% having experienced trauma as a child, according to studies. Eighty percent of homeless children have experienced domestic violence.

Greenwood County has the third-highest rate of homelessness per population in South Carolina. Homelessness in Greenwood increased 6.1% in 2019.

The South Carolina Homelessness Report shows that each homeless person costs taxpayers $40,00 per year.

Dispelling the mythsStalvey’s story of trauma is one of the many that leads people into homelessness, dispelling the myths that people without homes just need to get a job or stay off drugs, Pathway House Executive Director Anthony Price said.

“That, to me, is the puzzle that everybody is missing,” Price said of the root causes of homelessness. “I hear it all the time. No. 1, ‘Those bums just need to get a job.’ Well, about 70% of my clients are working. They want a job. But they have had so much trauma in their lives that it creates job problems because of post-traumatic stress, so that every time an employer says something to them, they don’t react like everybody else does, and then they get fired.”

Price said every one of his clients had a house before homelessness. They just couldn’t keep the house.

“People will say homelessness is caused by drug addiction,” Price said. “No. Only about 30% of the homeless are addicted, and most of them report becoming addicted after they were homeless.”

Price said about 90% of the homeless he encounters experienced childhood trauma. “When we finally get the trust of our clients and they start to share their story with you, it would shock your conscience,” he said. “What’s happened to these people — many times by family members or family friends — there’s a lot of physical, sexual and emotional abuse.”

Price referred to about 50 studies that focus on adverse childhood experiences that are directly linked to serious job problems, homelessness, drug addiction, chronic health problems and mental illness.

“These people have severe trauma, and they need help dealing with that trauma if they are ever going to be able to sustain a job,” Price said. “The thought that I can just put them in a house and they are going to be OK doesn’t work. They had a house, and, because of PTSD, they couldn’t keep it. They had a job, but, because of PTSD, they couldn’t keep it.”

Pathway House shifted the focus to dealing with the trauma and developing coping strategies. Pathway House looks at homelessness as human problem instead of a housing problem and says the real challenge is not finding housing or a job but rebuilding the human being.

Pathway House partners with Greater Greenwood United Ministry for medical screenings and finding medical help for homeless people.

“What we’ve done is partner with agencies so we can do a holistic service for our clients,” Price said. “Our really successful clients have ended up being here almost a year. Homeless people are really hurting and broken people.”

Pathway House is a sober-living facility. Price said substance abuse is just self-medicating because of the hurt from trauma.

Price said he often is asked why, if there is a homeless shelter, there are “all those people hanging out at Walmart.”

“My simple answer is because you give them money,” Price said. “One of the rules is never give them money. It never goes for what you think it’s going to go for.”

Price said Pathway House had a client who held homeless signs at Walmart who was making up to $300 a day.

“You’re actually allowing them to stay in a destructive behavior by handing them money,” Price said. “If I can stay in a motel and stay drunk, I’m feeding my addiction.”

Pathway House recommends that you acknowledge homeless people, do not give them money, offer an alternative such as food, water or a gift card for food. You can also direct them to call Pathway House at 864-223-4460.

Cold and homeless

Stalvey said, “Life, in general, started out with trauma,” for him. After living through sexual abuse as a child, he never set down roots. He was primarily a roofing contractor, and he spent most of his time traveling and staying in motels.

He was diagnosed with heart blockages in 2015. He had heart bypass surgery and another six surgeries since then. He also had surgery on his back. He stayed with his sister when he left the hospital, but she had a divorce and moved out.

“That put me out on the street,” Stalvey said. “It led from that to dependency on drugs. The drugs came when I started losing hope when I lost my health. I had always worked.”

Stalvey said he spent a lot of time walking — up to 28 miles a day — just to have something to do. When the owner of a laundromat where he slept made him leave, he decided to walk to a Walmart in North Augusta. He didn’t make it there. He stopped and stayed behind a church during the cold weather, while wearing just a T-shirt and slacks.

The pastor at the church arrived early one Saturday morning to open the food bank and found Stalvey near a dumpster. The pastor got him in touch with a member of the homeless coalition, who eventually helped Stalvey find his way to Pathway House. Stalvey arrived at Pathway House in July 2019.

“I thought I was going to rehab,” he said. “Fighting with the drugs, I just didn’t want to live that way anymore. I was in a bad way.”

He had been sober for four months before arriving at Pathway House. Once he arrived, he got involved in the woodshop program for nine weeks and began helping out in the kitchen.

“What keeps me sober is seeing these guys come in here and knowing I don’t ever want to be like that again,” Stalvey said. “Now, I don’t feel worthless. I have hope. I have a loving and supportive structure around me.”

Stalvey is now the kitchen manager at Pathway House and has his own home.

“If you are ready to make a change in your life, there is hope here,” he said.

Divorce leads

to downward spiralWilliam Landers’ root cause of homelessness can be traced back to a broken relationship. After going through a divorce, he began drinking heavily to self-medicate because of the emotional trauma. Then his mother died.

“After that, the drinking got even worse,” Landers said. “I lost my house and was basically on the streets then.”

Landers went to alcohol rehabilitation several times but eventually started drinking again. He came to Greenwood about 2 1/2 years ago and wound up in Self Regional Medical Center because of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Upon leaving, the hospital staff suggested Landers give Pathway House a try.

“They found me work and got me to volunteer up here, which gave me something to do rather than sitting around,” Landers said of Pathway House.

Meg’s House got him an apartment. He’s been sober for 29 months.

“They (Pathway House) helped me get the medical help I needed,” Landers said. “They helped me with my medications. They helped me with getting a home. They helped me in so many ways that I couldn’t really express.”

He volunteers at the Pathway Thrift Store.

“I wanted to give back,” Landers said. “I just can’t put it into words how grateful I am for them.”

‘Just wandering through life’

E.J. Speed is the men’s shelter manager at Pathway House. He was once homeless, so he can relate to the men who come to the shelter.

“I grew up not feeling accepted in my own home,” Speed said. “There wasn’t really a lot of love there. I didn’t feel wanted, which transitioned, when I hit high school, into being an outcast there.”

He said he was picked on a lot in high school and that it damaged his self-esteem and self-worth. He attended a keg party one time and said he drank and smoked marijuana.

“I guess it was kind of an escape for me,” he said. “Growing up, I always believed in God, but my view of him was distorted. I viewed him like I viewed my earthly father. I guess my view of God was that he was just this mean, wicked judge in the sky ready to punish me every time I screwed up.”

During his senior year in high school, he got arrested for breaking into the school and stealing items and for vandalism. He ended up in jail. When he got out, he joined the Marine Corps but was kicked out during boot camp.

“So, it was like I flushed my whole future down the toilet with one bad choice,” Speed said. “And that just continued to spiral downward. I was just kind of wandering through life. I spent the next 25 years bouncing from job to job and relationship to relationship — and in and out of jail. The drug addiction got worse, and I ended up using cocaine and started smoking crack.”

He said he didn’t know the reason he was alive or understand the point of life.

“So, I was just lost spiritually and emotionally, and the drugs were my escape from that reality of being lost,” Speed said.

He bounced from job to job, and he eventually transitioned from using cocaine to smoking methamphetamine. He went from living in a home to a motel and, eventually, found himself on the street.

A friend talked Speed into entering a faith-based rehabilitation program.

“When I got there, man I felt (God’s) presence like I’d never felt before, and all the guys that were there were just kind of loving on me and telling me how happy they were that I was there,” Speed said. “And I ended up giving my life over to the Lord. My third day there, I got clean and sober I graduated the program.”

Speed eventually got married and started a substance-abuse ministry through his church. He connected with Pathway House through his ministry and eventually was offered a job.

“It’s not just a shelter,” Speed said. “It’s an actual ministry where they’re really trying to help people get back on their feet and teaching them life skills and helping them find jobs and introducing them to the Lord.”

Because of his homeless experience, Speed is able to relate to the men who come to Pathway House.

“One of the common denominators of homelessness and drug addiction is trauma,” Speed said. “They have gone through some kind of trauma in their life where their self-worth is really damaged and their self-esteem is really damaged. And it just really messes you up on the inside and with your mind and in your heart.”

He said he’s made peace with his past.

“I know I have purpose,” Speed said. “God used all the pain from my past, all that stuff that I went through. He’s using that now for me to help other people.”

Looking for a way to volunteer or donate? Click here.

Contact staff writer Greg K. Deal at 864-943-5647 or follow on Twitter @IJDEAL.