Dream Center project to help ‘those ready to help themselves’

By Jason Evans
Staff Reporter

EASLEY — A project from The Dream Center of Pickens County aims to give a helping hand — and a place to stay — to those in need.

Last week, building official Tommy Holcombe presented to Easley City Council members a [cointent_lockedcontent]rezoning request related to the project, which would see a number of small housing units built at 111 Hillcrest Drive, across from the Dream Center’s offices.

The plan would see 8-10 units about 150 square feet in size and 8-10 240-square-foot units built, officials said.

Holcombe presented preliminary drawings to council, and Dream Center officials were on hand to answer questions during the council meeting.

The aim is to give a helping hand to area homeless people who are ready to help themselves, Dream Center officials said. There is currently no homeless shelter in Pickens County.

The units would provide temporary housing for either individuals or small families.

Those accepted into the housing program would have to meet and maintain certain criteria to remain in the units, Holcombe said.

“No alcohol, no drugs,” Holcombe said. “They’d have to participate in a plan that the Dream Center has come up with. The ultimate goal is to get these people back on their feet and get them back into a productive role in society.”

Councilman Terry Moore asked how long each participant would be living in the units.

Dream Center board president Jim Wilson said, while it wouldn’t be open-ended, that determination would be approached on a case-by-case basis

“There will be benchmarks along the way that they would have to meet so that they stay on the plan,” he said. “That is to create a sense of urgency so that they get a job and stay on their feet.”

Moore asked what would happen if those benchmarks were not met.

“There will be consequences,” Wilson said. “Ultimately, if they decide not to follow the program — the program is to get a job — if they decide that’s not something they want to do, then they can go and find a different solution. But that’s what we have to offer.”

The units would have a small kitchenette area, but residents’ meals would be prepared at the Dream Center by the Dream Center staff, Holcombe said.

“There will be no cooking in there,” he said.

Holcombe said the smaller housing units are “just one step.”

“(The Dream Center) has invested money, too,” he said.

The organization has invested in 10 houses on nearby Craig Street “which will be another step” in the program, Holcombe said.

“They’re not just coming to us, asking for something,” he said. “They’re investing, also. Hopefully that will spur others to fix up.”

The smaller units are “step one,” Wilson said. “That gets them in, gets them out of the cold or the heat, whatever the case may be, gets their basic needs met, whatever the case may be. Once they get a job and get income coming in, they’ll move over to the larger units.”

The houses on Craig Street are “step three,” he continued.

“Then, they’ll move out into the community (and) either buy or rent a house that will get them back into society,” he concluded.

Councilman Jim Robinson asked if any members of the community had been present at the planning commission meeting.

Holcombe said no community members had been present at the meeting but that his office has received no calls from community members regarding the project.

Councilman Thomas Wright said he’d received a couple of calls about the project from residents, but no one expressed outright disapproval of the idea.

“One was from a pastor who thought it was a good idea, that the Dream Center was a beacon for the community,” Wright said. “The other person said they’d have to think about it, pray over it.”

He asked staff to distribute some information about the project to the surrounding community, who often lack computers or do not read newspapers, to help educate them about its purpose.

“We need to think about how to better disseminate information to the community,” Wright said.

Chris Wilson, executive director of the Dream Center, said the project is designed so both participants and the surrounding community will be proud of it.

“It’s not going to look like a prison,” she said. “It’s going to be very nice to look at it.”

She said the area will be safer “with it there than it ever has been.”

She said she’d spoken to residents of a nearby street, and their main concerns was that the program would be taking in drug addicts.

“We will drug test and refer out people who are struggling with addiction,” Chris Wilson said. “Once they overcome that, we’d love to have them back, so we can get them back on their feet. (Residents) were very happy that we were drug testing and that we were helping people who were ready to help themselves.”

The Dream Center would be responsible for the upkeep of the property “100 percent,” Holcombe said.

“We’ve got Mr. Wilson’s phone number on speed-dial and we don’t mind calling him,” he said.

Changing the zoning from general residential to office/institutional was the best fit for the project, Holcombe and the city’s planning commission agreed. That zoning gives the project the most flexibility.

Planning commission members are in favor of the zoning change, Holcombe said.

“The planning commission was very impressed with it,” Holcombe said of the project.

Council members approved the zoning request, which is just a first step, Holcombe said. The project will go back to the planning commission for further approvals as it moves forward.[/cointent_lockedcontent]