Florence youth emergency shelter helps homeless children, sex trafficking victims

There are more than 750 homeless children in South Carolina according to a 2016 study from the SC Coalition for the Homeless.

FLORENCE, SC (WBTW) – There are more than 750 homeless children in South Carolina according to a 2016 study from the SC Coalition for the Homeless. Those children in the Pee Dee will now have a place they could call home.

“There were a number of people experiencing homelessness in the Florence area,” said Cindy Williams.

Williams, a Florence native already working with inner-city, homeless, and at-risk youth in Baltimore, Maryland, knew there was a need in her hometown.

“There were no programs in the Florence or the Pee Dee region that specifically served runaways, homeless children or victims of domestic violence, sex trafficking,” said Williams.

Seeing the need, Williams and her team’s work has finally, paid off as the new Loving Arms Youth Shelter, the only one of its kind in the Pee Dee, recently opened its doors.

“Since opening, we’ve already served four young people,” said Williams.

Williams said they hope to serve many more.

The non-profit house will serve youth ages 10 to 18 and provide outreach and case management up to 24 years old.

In Loving Arms Florence shelter

“We do provide individual, family, and group counseling on-site for them, we provide mediation,” said Williams. “We provide for their basic needs, food, shelter, and clothing.”

Williams said while basic needs are important, getting at-risk kids back in school is important as well.

“If they’re not currently in school, we work with the school district to get them back enrolled in school to get them on track toward getting a high school diploma or GED,” explains Williams.

After school, the young people can get counseling, behavior, and anger management training, or unwind in the lounge or bedroom areas. For Williams, it’s all about providing a place to call home for kids who have been through a lot and put families back together.

“We can help get that family housed into permanent housing and hopefully get the child back with their family because we believe that families make children, not systems,” Williams states.

Williams said it’s important to help these children so they don’t wind up in an endless cycle of trouble.

“Instead of putting kids into the foster care or juvenile justice system we really need to figure out what happened and where did they get off track with their own family,” Williams said. “If possible, let’s work with families to keep families together.”

Williams invites the community to celebrate the grand opening of the Florence shelter May 9 from 10 a.m. to noon.