"A Walk in Their Shoes"
It was a beautiful, sunny morning complemented by a gentle cool breeze; the perfect weather for a unique walking tour of Downtown Columbia where we would learn about life on the streets from the perspective of those who have lived it.
Lori Cook and I were excited to participate in the Transitions Homeless Awareness Walk sponsored by Transitions and its community partners so we could understand better what it’s like to walk in the shoes of the Midlands Homeless.
As two staff members of the Richland Library Business and Job Center Team, we know first-hand, through some of our customers who have or are currently experiencing homelessness, how difficult it is to overcome this barrier in addition to the usual challenges of finding employment. We wanted to actively take the time to “walk in their shoes” to further enhance our knowledge and gain a better understanding of their circumstances.
Our Tour Experience
Floyd, a Transitions graduate with a booming, confident voice provided our group with impromptu stories intermingled with additional information shared by our two Columbia College tour guides. By sharing his stories, Floyd quickly dispelled the myths of homelessness.
MYTH: Homeless people can work; they just don’t want to.
FACT: Floyd was employed over 20 years as a security guard when he was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness.
19% of all homeless people are working part or full-time
MYTH: All Homeless people are all mentally ill.
FACT: While battling his illness he was laid off from work and still managed his depression.
Only 16% of the homeless population suffers from mental illness which means 84% are not mentally ill.
MYTH: People choose to be homeless
FACT: Floyd’s medical bills became so overwhelming that he could no longer stay in his home.
Many people are homeless because of the foreclosure crisis and high unemployment rate. 80% of the people who become homeless remain within the same area.
Floyd’s stories added intensity to the sights we experienced as we continued walking down Main Street, Laurel and Sumter Streets. For example, he asked us to stop and look closely at some well-manicured boxwood shrubs. Peering through the small space between two of the shrubs, we were able to see a flat, center “living “area carved perfectly for privacy and protection against the elements. Wow! Our perspective immediately changed. Then, we proceeded behind some prominent business establishments and learned how alley ways and stairwells were also temporary “hotels” for those living on the streets. Normally, we would be admiring the historic architecture of these buildings, but through the eyes of the homeless it means a place of refuge.
Floyd is one of the lucky ones. He expressed how thankful he is for Transitions and the assistance he received there. Due to their help, Floyd was able to avoid having to live on the streets. “I feel blessed. And, that is why I am here today; to give back and help others.” But, what happens when Transitions has no available bed space? As we continued on the Transitions Homeless Awareness Walk, we learned about other community resources and became familiar with their locations. For example, we passed The Oliver Gospel Mission, Hannah House, and United Way of the Midlands, Hope Plaza and Clean of Heart, a mission of the Dioceses of Charleston.
Lori and I were especially proud when the tour stopped in front of the Richland Library because it gave us a chance to tell our group about the extensive resources and services the library provides to anyone who enters their doors including persons experiencing homelessness. Many of the The Richland Library staff volunteer on site as well. The Library helped implement a special area at Transitions where residents are able to check out books, meet with tutors to refine writing, reading, and communication skills, and receive Job searching and resumes assistance. The Richland Library is always looking for empowering and innovative ways for everyone to Access Freely!
This is why Lori and I wanted to share our Transitions Homeless Awareness Walk experiences with you. Feel free to check out the links below to the walk map, familiarize yourself with the community organizations we saw along the way and learn from other listed resources as we all strive to understand the many challenges faced by the Midlands Homeless. It can begin by simply taking a "Walk in Their Shoes."
Transition’s Homeless Awareness Walk map
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