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  • Adrienne Grant

Swain Scholar presents study on Horry County homeless

Those without a home make up 10 percent of South Carolina's population. There are 492 homeless and counting in Horry County.

The county also has the highest rate of unsheltered homeless people in South Carolina at 40 percent.

These startling numbers were shown at the Women in Philanthropy and Leadership Luncheon presented by Swain Scholar Kerry Dittmeier.

Dittmeier, a junior majoring in Public Health, worked in conjunction with Emma Kroger and Nancy Phillips for two years researching the perception of homelessness in Horry County.

Dittmeier, Kroger and Phillips are a part of the Swain Scholar program, a prestigious program where students focus on combining research and community outreach.

The purpose of the “Homeless Are..." project was to show the need for communication within the community and how to combat the problem by educating and bringing more awareness to the cause.

Kenneth Swain, creator of the scholars' program, came to listen to the presentation.

Gina Cummings, Wall Fellows Program director, was one of the many in attendance. She said she was there to learn what she could do.

"...find out the perspective of how they need help, and then learn how to help them in that particular way," said Cummings.

Dittmeier, with her fellow Swain Scholars, conducted research for a year and a half in the form of surveys in collaboration with the Veterans Association and Eastern Carolina Homelessness Organization.

In her findings, she discovered the gap between the perspective and reality of homelessness when it came to the millennials and generational was huge.

Millennials felt that homelessness was due to irresponsibility, whereas generational felt it was more so situational reasons.

From the Swain Scholars research findings, the Swain scholars also found that 84 percent believed that drug abuse was the cause of homelessness. In actuality, the leading cause of homelessness nationally is actually the loss of one’s job at 35 percent.

The Swain Scholars also worked in collaboration with the Athenaeum Press, a digital publication for Coastal Carolina University.

Alli Krandel, director of Digital Initiatives, brought this research to life with students Ashely Cochran, Katelin Gandee, Jeremey Razook, Drew Smith and Rhonda Taylor.

They essentially brought Swain Scholars research to life through three ways: it being regional, digital and sellable where the profits could go back to the community for the homeless.

Last year, students may have seen wall installations on Prince Lawn that invited the Coastal Carolina community to write with a piece of chalk, their preconceived notions about homelessness. The installations read “Homeless Are,” and this sparked many different opinions and debates.

The installations were designed by Drew Smith, senior majoring in graphic design, and inspired by Candy Chang’s “Before I Die” work.

Athenaeum Press also created a web series for when they spoke to homeless people, and a book called “492 and Counting” where the team wrote nine stories from nine different people affected by homelessness in some way.

The students were able to follow Stevens Stephens’s, who works with ECHO to deliver food and other supplies to the homeless around the area.

Gandee, senior communication major, said trust was a huge issue when trying to get an inside perspective.

"The hardest part about interviewing the homeless was building their trust so the homeless would talk to us,” said Gandee.

The Athenaeum Press also tagged along with the Myrtle Beach Police Department, where they have special unit that is trained to find camp sites and help homeless people get off the street.

One homeless person they created a series on was Ronnie. Ronnie was homeless due to some housing not allowing pit-bulls, and he did not want to give up his dog.

Toward the end of the WIPL luncheon, Dittmeier explained how the project affected her.

“I’m 19-years-old, but when I learned of Carly, who was also 19-years-old, and homeless; this emotionally hit me how we could be experiencing different walks of life at the same age,” said Dittmeier.

Those interested in helping the homeless can contact the Shepherd's Table and Eastern Carolina Homeless Organization.

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