Jake Carter, a fourth-year media arts student, is currently filming the documentary “Home Sick,” which chronicles the lives of the homeless in Columbia. He has spent time with several of Columbia’s homeless and got a first-hand look at what it’s really like to be without shelter. The individual stories he outlines give a face to the increasing number of homeless people in our city and give viewers a new perspective.
Five-thousand families were without homes in South Carolina last year—over 1,000 of which survive in the Columbia area. Through a local non-profit, Keepin’ It Real Ministries, Jake befriended a few of these people and learned about their daily hardships. He found that they are not too different than the rest of us.
“Home Sick” features Robert, a 50-year-old physically disabled man who spends most of his days at Richland County Public Library or Finlay Park. The homeless frequently visit public libraries during the day because they provide shelter from bad weather and have internet access. When it starts to get dark, Robert searches for a place to sleep, often bunking at the Winter Shelter, which he describes as a warehouse full of beds. He is allowed to stay there until 5 or 6 a.m., at which time he begins the process all over again.
“Homelessness is a very lonely life,” Jake says. “They don’t know who they can trust. They must constantly fend for themselves.”
Homeless people are too often lumped into stereotypical categories. “Home Sick” emphasizes that each person has a different story and situation, and while they do need basic resources, they also need to be treated like human beings. People write them off as lazy or addicted to substances, but the film shows that these negative associations are presumptuous.
The Coalition of the Homeless reports that 40% of all homeless people work part or full-time jobs in any given month. The myriad of causes of homelessness include de-institutionalization of hospital patients and veterans, increased costs of living and the poor state of the economy, natural disasters and escape from domestic abuse. Children comprise about 20% of the homeless, and 37% are family units, often single mothers with one or two kids.
In addition to Jake, a handful of USC students have become aware of the hunger and homelessness problem in Columbia through campus organizations, Habitat for Humanity being one of them. The chapter here at USC is directly affiliated with South Carolina’s central Habitat office, and they help to build homes, fund raise and teach others about the importance of stable housing. Another philanthropic club, No Kid Hungry USC, is a brand new university chapter of a large campaign aimed at ending childhood hunger. Because of its novice status, the group is looking for new members to help contribute to their cause. Last, in March, Gamecocks who attended the Oxfam Hunger Banquet got a taste of what it would be like to survive on inadequate meals. Attendees were served merely a small plate of rice, in an effort to spread awareness about the lack of nutrition affecting many of Columbia’s homeless.
G&B spoke with Annie*, a 29-year-old former homeless woman, who spent two years of her life at a local shelter in Columbia specifically designed to aid abused women. There, she received counseling and formed friendships with people who helped her return to a normal life. Now, she has a part-time job and a small place of her own.
“I was just lost and alone,” Annie says. “I wouldn’t have gotten through it without their help.”
Keepin’ it Real Ministries and organizations like it, which provide more than just food and shelter, tend to have the best success and lead to permanent rehabilitation, rather than a temporary fix. Organizations in Columbia like The Hannah House, The Women’s Shelter, Oliver Gospel Mission and Angel’s House Ministries work to provide long-term solutions for the homeless. Oliver Gospel Mission aims to transform the lives of the homeless through counseling, education assistance and recovery programs. Director Beth Wells says that they are always in need of helping hands.
“People can volunteer, give financially, donate needed items, hold clothing and food drives or participate in our special events,” Beth says.
Some of the most needed items include clothing, toilet paper, coffee, disposable razors, cold and allergy medicine, towels and canned goods. Donating necessities is an important part in aiding the homeless, but “Home Sick” emphasizes that personal relationships are equally crucial.
“A lot of these people just want someone to talk to,” Jake says. “It’s about more than just going to a soup kitchen, handing out food and then going home. It’s about becoming a friend.”
*This name has been changed to protect their privacy.