"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
Inside the lives of homeless teens--moving stories of pain and hope from Covenant HouseAlmost Home tells the stories of six remarkable young people from across the Unit more...
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Inside the lives of homeless teens--moving stories of pain and hope from Covenant HouseAlmost Home tells the stories of six remarkable young people from across the United States and Canada as they confront life alone on the streets. Each eventually finds his or her way to Covenant House, the largest charity serving homeless and runaway youth in North America. From the son of a crack addict who fights his own descent into drug addiction to a teen mother reaching for a new life, their stories veer between devastating and inspiring as they each struggle to find a place called home. Includes a foreword by Newark Mayor Cory Booker Shares the personal stories of six homeless youths grappling with issues such as drug addiction, family violence, prostitution, rejection based on sexual orientation, teen parenthood, and aging out of foster care into a future with limited skills and no support systemGives voice to the estimated 1.6 million young people in the United States and Canada who run away or are kicked out of their homes each yearIncludes striking photographs, stories of firsthand experiences mentoring and working with homeless and troubled youth, and practical suggestions on how to get involvedDiscusses the root causes of homelessness among young people, and policy recommendations to address themProvides action steps readers can take to fight youth homelessness and assist individual homeless young peopleWritten by Kevin Ryan, president of Covenant House, and Pulitzer Prize winner and former New York Times writer Tina KelleyInviting us to get to know homeless teens as more than an accumulation of statistics and societal issues, this book gives a human face to a huge but largely invisible problem and offers practical insights into how to prevent homelessness and help homeless youth move to a hopeful future. For instance, one kid in the book goes on to become a college football player and counselor to at-risk adolescents and another becomes a state kickboxing champion. All the stories inspire us with victories of the human spirit, large and small. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of each book will help support kids who benefit from Covenant House's shelter and outreach services. less...
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“Most of the people I write about in this book do not have the luxury of rage. They are caught in exhausting struggles. Their wages do not lift them far enough from poverty to improve their lives, and their lives, in turn, hold them back. The term by which they are usually described, ‘working poor,’ should be an oxymoron. Nobody who works hard should be poor in America.” —from the Introduction From the author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning Arab and Jew, a new book that presents a searing, intimate portrait of working American families struggling against insurmountable odds to escape poverty. As David K. Shipler makes clear in this powerful, humane study, the invisible poor are engaged in the activity most respected in American ideology—hard, honest work. But their version of the American Dream is a nightmare: low-paying, dead-end jobs; the profound failure of government to improve upon decaying housing, health care, and education; the failure of families to break the patterns of child abuse and substance abuse. Shipler exposes the interlocking problems by taking us into the sorrowful, infuriating, courageous lives of the poor—white and black, Asian and Latino, citizens and immigrants. We encounter them every day, for they do jobs essential to the American economy. We meet drifting farmworkers in North Carolina, exploited garment workers in New Hampshire, illegal immigrants trapped in the steaming kitchens of Los Angeles restaurants, addicts who struggle into productive work from the cruel streets of the nation’s capital—each life another aspect of a confounding, far-reaching urgent national crisis. And unlike most works on poverty, this one delves into the calculations of some employers as well—their razor-thin profits, their anxieties about competition from abroad, their frustrations in finding qualified workers. This impassioned book not only dissects the problems, but makes pointed, informed recommendations for change. It is a book that stands to make a difference. less...
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Poverty and homelessness are sadly evident in America's cities-and even in some of the nation's rural areas. Contributors examine the root causes of poverty and what should be done to help the poor and the homeless. less...
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Jeannette Walls grew up with parents whose ideals and stubborn nonconformity were both their curse and their salvation. Rex and Rose Mary Walls had four children. In the beginning, they lived like nomads, moving among Southwest desert towns, camping in the mountains. Rex was a charismatic, brilliant man who, when sober, captured his children's imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and above all, how to embrace life fearlessly. Rose Mary, who painted and wrote and couldn't stand the responsibility of providing for her family, called herself an "excitement addict." Cooking a meal that would be consumed in fifteen minutes had no appeal when she could make a painting that might last forever. Later, when the money ran out, or the romance of the wandering life faded, the Walls retreated to the dismal West Virginia mining town -- and the family -- Rex Walls had done everything he could to escape. He drank. He stole the grocery money and disappeared for days. As the dysfunction of the family escalated, Jeannette and her brother and sisters had to fend for themselves, supporting one another as they weathered their parents' betrayals and, finally, found the resources and will to leave home. What is so astonishing about Jeannette Walls is not just that she had the guts and tenacity and intelligence to get out, but that she describes her parents with such deep affection and generosity. Hers is a story of triumph against all odds, but also a tender, moving tale of unconditional love in a family that despite its profound flaws gave her the fiery determination to carve out a successful life on her own terms. For two decades, Jeannette Walls hid her roots. Now she tells her own story. A regular contributor to MSNBC.com, she lives in New York and Long Island and is married to the writer John Taylor. less...
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