ROCS expands Mitchell services with new thrift store amid growing demand for support services

ROCS expands Mitchell services with new thrift store amid growing demand for support services

MITCHELL – A South Dakota organization is expanding its services in the Mitchell area to provide a lifeline to those in need.

For approximately three decades, the Rural Office of Community Services, more commonly known as ROCS, has provided a myriad of services to the Mitchell area, including housing weatherization, home rehabilitation, emergency shelter, food aid and transportation, to name a few key services. In about a month, ROCS will embark on a new adventure in Mitchell by opening a thrift store in the former Second and Lawler Co. candy store, where the organization plans to sell clothing, furniture and other household items to people in the need.

“In my previous role, I was helping people who were in need or maybe just got out of jail, and they were like, ‘I don’t have any clothes,'” said ROCs CEO Peter Smith. . “In my current role, we provide all of these other needs and services at Mitchell, but we don’t have a thrift store of our own. We will now be able to recommend people in the Mitchell community who don’t have the money to go directly to our thrift store instead of giving them vouchers for other thrift stores.

The opening of the ROCS Community Closet thrift store will provide another affordable option for clothing and homewares at a time when costs for nearly every product have risen with inflation, Smith said.


Sitting on the corner of 2nd and Lawler is the new location of the ROCS Community Closet on Friday, December 9, 2022.

Adam Thury/Republic Mitchell

The new thrift store also allowed ROCS to move its current office from North Main Street in Mitchell to Second Avenue and Lawler Street – a move Smith says will centralize ROCS’ footprint in Mitchell and further expose the region to the variety of services offered. . With the influx of people who have used the services of ROCS over the past year, Mitchell’s expansion will aim to meet growing demand.

“A lot of people got a lot of help in all aspects of their lives during COVID-19, and now it’s starting to dry up,” Smith said of what is partly driving demand for ROCS services. “COVID-19 has made people more dependent on our housing programs. Many people were getting help from the government for their rent or their mortgage. This help ends now.

Helping Mitchell’s homeless population

Pandemic relief money reaching the end of its life cycle isn’t the only thing attracting more people to ROCS services. Another factor is inflation hitting 9.1% this year, an unprecedented jump since 1981. This has created a tough financial recipe for those living below the federal poverty line, some of whom Smith says are on the verge of eviction or losing their homes.

And it has prompted more area residents to turn to ROCS for help with emergency accommodation.

“We are seeing more evictions. We see more foreclosure potential. The fix that happened during COVID-19 now creates another hurdle,” Smith said.

ROCS is one of the few organizations in the region that provides homeless people with a place to temporarily shelter. In extreme circumstances, ROCS will assist people with temporary hotel stays or work with local organizations that provide shelter for the homeless.

Seeing a homeless person camping in Mitchell is a rare sight, but ROCS leaders say homelessness in the area is real and growing.

As Michelle Figland, human resources manager for ROCS, said, homelessness in South Dakota can be invisible.

“We may not see someone who is homeless sitting on the side of the road or sidewalk because of our climate. Instead, they can probably couch surf at a friend’s house. Just because they’re not as visible as they are somewhere with a warmer climate doesn’t mean they’re not there,” Figland said.

Mitchell does not have designated homeless shelters like the facilities in Yankton and Sioux Falls. However, Smith said there are hotels and Mitchell organizations working with ROCS to provide emergency shelter for the homeless.

The reality of homelessness in Mitchell can be seen in the Davison County court proceedings. In the past year alone, at least a handful of people facing criminal charges have indicated they are homeless. Smith said he is considering a ROCS homeless shelter in Mitchell in the future.

“Mitchell is right on Interstate 90. That impacts roaming,” Smith said.


A sign is taped to the window of the old 2nd and Lawler building announcing the new ROCS Community Closet on Friday, December 9, 2022.

Adam Thury/Republic Mitchell

Another way ROCS gives area residents a lifeline to keep a roof over their heads is through its home weatherization program, which involves ROCS sending a contractor to the home and makes repairs or identifies areas of the house that allow cold air to enter.

“We go to their homes and make sure they are energy efficient. We detect insulation problems and repair elements of the house such as windows, which helps reduce their energy bills. We look at vents, fans, and also test for radon and carbon monoxide to make sure they’re in a healthy environment,” Smith said of the weatherization program.

On the transport front, Smith said ROCS provides vouchers that can be used to receive transport to Mitchell from Palace Transit, as well as to pay for a long-distance bus ride to an area where a person can access a housing or more job opportunities.

Many ROCS services are available to people living below the federal poverty guideline, but Smith said there are other programs that don’t require an individual to be below the poverty line.

ROCS serves communities throughout much of the southeast and south-central portion of the state, reaching areas as far west as Lyman County to the eastern border.

For ROCS to provide such a range of services, Smith said, it wouldn’t be possible without the great partnerships with federal, state and local organizations, including the South Dakota Housing Authority. The Mitchell Area Food Pantry and Palace Transit recognizing vouchers issued by the ROCS is an example of the partnerships that power the organization’s services.

“There are many great organizations that share our mission to truly help those in need,” Smith said.

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