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Spartanburg’s Homeless Court participants complete program

This article originally appeared on the City of Spartanburg’s website

The man was no stranger to Judge Erika McJimpsey’s courtroom. Usually answering to a misdemeanor charge such as trespassing, he had been locked up dozens of times over the years. But just like band-aids don’t prevent injuries, throwing a destitute person in jail doesn’t fix the root causes of homelessness.

So every few weeks, the man would again stand in front of Judge McJimpsey, who has served as the City of Spartanburg’s municipal judge since 2009. Sometimes, the judge and her staff through their connections with local homeless shelters and other organizations and charities would find temporary housing for him. Sometimes, they had no choice but to confine him to jail for a short period of time.

“He had come before the court over 100 times, and we had begun to notice a decline in his health,” McJimpsey said. “It was a gradual decline that had become more obvious. He came to court back in January 2019, and we had a really, really bad cold snap around that time — around three or four weeks of really cold weather and he was out there in the cold.”

Two days later, McJimpsey received a phone call on her way to work, notifying her that the man had frozen to death.

“From a judicial standpoint, you must be neutral and unbiased, but that doesn’t shut down your compassion to want to see people live a better life,” McJimpsey said. “Sometimes I may do that more than some people would like, but I want to help. And sometimes that help is not locking someone up.

“At that point, I felt like we had to do something. We had to do something different.”

That something became the City’s Homeless Court, an innovative approach to addressing the root cause of homelessness.

What is Homeless Court?

Spartanburg is one of just five cities in South Carolina (the other four are Columbia, Charleston, Myrtle Beach and Florence) to create a homeless court as an alternative to the punitive approach the criminal justice system normally takes toward homelessness.

As George Cauthen, an attorney who has helped develop homeless courts in the state, and Jennifer Wilson, a municipal judge in Myrtle Beach, wrote in the May 2019 issue of SC Lawyer magazine, the theory behind creating a Homeless Court is that homeless people come into contact with law enforcement and receive citations more often than other people. At the same time, they often do not show up for court. Cauthen and Wilson explain:

“... The greatest single factor that prevents individuals who are homeless from attending a traditional court is fear. They fear a system that in general has not treated them well in the past. They fear their inability to pay the fines imposed on them. They fear incarceration, especially when they are working or in some type of treatment program and incarceration means starting over at square one upon release. Other than providing temporary housing, incarceration of the homeless does nothing to benefit the homeless or the community. Yet, court attendance is the only way to resolve legal issues.”

But resolving those legal issues isn’t the only goal of Spartanburg’s homeless court.

“Back in 2018, we started to notice a marked increase in the number of homeless people appearing in municipal court,” McJimpsey said. “There were growing numbers of people falling on hard times, and from my perspective there was no direction for how to help them when they came here. There was nothing to address the underlying problems.”

After McJimpsey and Spartanburg Court Administrator Alma Miller met with Cauthen and homeless court officials in Columbia, they came back to Spartanburg and got to work. They met with leaders from social service organizations across the community and learned what resources Spartanburg already was investing in addressing those underlying issues.

They also met with 7th Circuit Solicitor Barry Barnette, Deputy Solicitor Derrick Bulsa and the Public Defender’s Office to share the idea, which they quickly got behind. “The things we really needed — the passion, the goodwill — were already in place,” McJimpsey said. “Everyone was like ‘Yes, let’s do it.’

“We met with Hannah Jarrett from United Way of the Piedmont and Carey Rothschild from Spartan-burg Regional Healthcare System. We met with SPIHN (Spartanburg Interfaith Hospitality Network) and our community’s Home-less Task Force. I knew what homelessness looked like in my courtroom but I didn’t know what it looked like beyond that. Spartanburg was already doing some things that needed to be done to establish a homeless court. There were a lot of things in place because a lot of people were doing the work and had laid the foundation.”

That foundation was critical to getting the homeless court up and running in record time — normally, it takes a community a year or two to receive approval from the state Supreme Court to establish a homeless court. But with many of the wraparound services and resources in place and the organizations who provide them already collaborating, Spartanburg was able to launch its homeless court in September of 2019, just eight months after McJimp-sey started to research the concept.

What Happens in Homeless Court?

Every person who has their case moved to homeless court is appointed a local attorney and a case manager who has volunteered their time to help. From housing assistance and health care to SNAP benefits and help finding employment, homeless court case managers create a plan for each person and then connect them to the social services they need to get off the streets and begin to build a more stable life for themselves and their families.

Andrea Moore and Suzy Cole are two of the dozen or so local attorneys who heeded the court’s call for pro bono legal services. Their firm, Village Legal Hub, focuses on assisting non-profits and charitable organizations and the two women have worked for many years in the community’s social service sector. Cole and Moore make a unique team because Moore is able to serve as both counsel and case manager for homeless court clients.

Their first homeless court client was a young pregnant woman who had been living under a bridge, but with Moore and Cole’s help, the woman now has stable employment and an apartment, where she is raising her baby. She was one of the first five graduates from the city’s homeless court earlier this month. To graduate, one must have obtained stable housing, be employed or receiving unemployment benefits, and be connected to a primary service provider. Upon graduation, the charges the person was facing are expunged.

When McJimpsey congratulated the young woman and announced she had completed the requirements of the homeless court and her charges were expunged, the other people in the courtroom stood and applauded. It was “the most uplifting and rewarding experience I have ever had in court,” Cole said. “You don’t usually walk out of a courtroom feeling like that.”

“These are lives that have been changed,” McJimpsey said of the initial class of homeless court graduates. “Not changed by homeless court, but by people like the service providers and the local attorneys and a lot of other people who are willing to do the work. We should be proud of our community — we have a lot of work to do, but we have a lot of people who care and are working very hard.”






Converse is adding men’s teams to their athletic department during the 2020-21 academic year, including men’s basketball. 


Driving our region vibrantly forward with new Valkyries athletics teams 

It’s no secret Converse is growing and implementing some monumental changes in 2021. With the July 2021 name change from college to university and the fall 2020 shift to co-educational, Converse is looking into the future and driving our region vibrantly forward while still honoring our rich history. A significant element of the model change includes launching the first men’s sports teams.

Converse has a rich history of competitive NCAA Division II athletics programs and currently has 13 women’s sports teams: Acrobatics & Tumbling, Basketball, Cross Country, Equestrian, Field Hockey, Golf, Lacrosse, Soccer, Softball, Swimming, Tennis, Track & Field, and Volleyball.

In 1894, Converse was one of the first progressive colleges in the country to implement women’s sports, some of which included tennis, bowling, gymnastics, and a variety of other activities. In 1899, five years after the launch of the women’s athletics teams, Converse began encouraging and hosting basketball games for women as well.

Converse will continue building and growing elite women’s teams while also welcoming male athletes to the unique and diverse tapestry of the Valkyries. Beginning in 2021, each corresponding to its own season, the NCAA Division II men’s teams will include: Basketball, Cross Country, Soccer, Tennis, and Track & Field. In addition, Converse will transition to a co-ed Equestrian program (IHSA) and add an inaugural eSports co-ed team.

“The male student-athletes who have recently signed with us are excited to be a part of a brand new program,” said Chris Sawyer, Converse Assist-ant Athletic Director for Athletic Communications. “It’s a chance for them to be a part of history and shaping the future of men’s athletics at Converse. There are opportunities for scholarships, and there’s an opportunity for everyone to play right away.”

“With the addition of men’s sports, we will continue our momentum in Conference Carolinas, one of the best conferences in the region. Our existing women’s Division II teams are getting the opportunity to play Division I teams, and they are succeeding and gaining victories,” remarked Sawyer.

“We are anticipating making big waves next year in all of our men’s teams, but the basketball, soccer, Cross Country/ Track & Field and eSports teams especially are already gaining rapid momentum. Our Head Men’s Basketball Coach, Ryan Saunders, comes to Converse with an impressive record working in Conference Carolinas.

Our Head Men’s Soccer Coach, Rob Miller, has close to 300 collegiate victories. Rob has taken teams to a number of championships over the past 20 years and has had a very successful career. We are thrilled he has chosen to come to Converse to start the inaugural men’s soccer program.”

“We are also excited to begin co-ed eSports next year,” Sawyer said. “eSports is one of the biggest things happening right now in collegiate athletics, and this is just the beginning. We are anticipating eSports to grow rapidly over the next few years. eSports will add so much to Converse and bring in a whole new dynamic. Our Head eSports Coach, Max Wood, is already recruiting for the 2021 games and we’re looking forward to a great season.”

Converse is eagerly anticipating the positive growth next year will bring with the institution’s forward progress, the strengthening of the women’s athletic teams, and the beginning of men’s athletics teams. In 2021, Converse will continue providing innovative opportunities for its students and drive the Upstate region vibrantly forward.





Department of Art presents ‘Matthew Baumgardner: Grids and Glyphs’ in Thompson Gallery

Greenville - An exhibition celebrating the life and work of visual artist Matthew C. Baumgardner (1955-2018) will be presented by the Furman University Department of Art Jan. 19 - Feb. 19 in Thompson Gallery of the Roe Art Building. Thomp-son Gallery hours are 9 a.m. - 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

As the campus remains closed to the public due to COVID-19 protocols, in-person viewing of the exhibition is limited to Furman students, faculty and staff. However, the online Zoom exhibition opening, which takes place Thursday, Jan. 28, 6:30-7:30 p.m., is free and open to the public. RSVP by email to the Furman Department of Art at furmanart@furman.edu to obtain a Zoom link.

Curated and organized by Furman art students, the exhibition, “Matthew Baumgardner: Grids and Glyphs,” is the culmination of the Curatorial Issues and Practices class taught by Diane Fischer, adjunct professor of art history, and marks the second exhibition of Baumgardner’s work hosted at Furman.

The show explores Baumgardner’s creative process and inner spirit through a selection of works and ephemera spanning the artist’s career from 1977-2018, and includes 17 paintings, sculptures, notes, journals and materials from his Travelers Rest studio.

Central to the exhibition are paintings rendered on birch plywood with Baumgardner’s signature medium – “mud” – a thick, paint-like paste created with gypsum and powdered pigments he applied to surfaces in multiple layers of grids and glyphs. This technique and the series of paintings born from it won him a Visual Arts Fellowship in Painting by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1993.

For the Jan. 28 Zoom opening, Furman’s Sarah Archino, associate professor of art history, and Fischer will give context for the exhibition, followed by students who appear in pre-recorded mini-presentations, including a video walk-through of the gallery, a chronological study of Baumgardner’s work, a discussion of a special display, and explanations of artifacts from the artist’s estate. A live Q&A will follow the student presentations.

Installation images and video of Baumgardner’s work in “Grids and Glyphs” will be available online at https://baumgardnerarchives.com/ by late January 2021. For more information, contact Diane Fischer at diane.fischer@ furman.edu. Or contact the Furman News and Media Strategy office at 864-294-3107.