Since Lyn Riddle’s article in the Greenville News last November about homelessness and Tent City, there has been a lot of talk about the issue of homelessness in Greenville County. The articles focusing on Tent City, including poignant photos of life under the Pete Hollis Bridge, exposed the many challenges facing Greenville’s homeless, and began to tell the stories of those who live on the streets and those helping them. The response has been overwhelmingly positive, but despite the long list of recommended agencies already working to address homelessness, many responded to the articles by dropping off food, clothes, blankets, and firewood for those living in Tent City. Often this caused more harm than good.
As someone who lives on the so-called “homeless triangle,” the route between service providers to the homeless in Downtown Greenville, I am an observer to the prevalence of homelessness in our community and the people who walk the streets day and night. In fact, my front porch has become a safe haven for those who need refuge from the rain or a quiet place to sleep at night. Although it makes my parents queasy, I don’t ask these people to leave; instead I ask for their names. These individuals, who I could prematurely write off as drug addicts, alcoholics or mentally ill, are still valuable members of our society, whether or not any of those identifiers are true. Many of them look at me like I’m crazy for not immediately disregarding them. Then they start to tell me their stories, very similar to the ones told in the Greenville News article. Each of the stories is equally heartbreaking, but I resist the urge to hand out cash, instead seeking to relate to this individual as an equal and better understand their struggles and needs.
A few years ago, my response would have been very different, but then I started to volunteer at Triune Mercy Center, read books like Toxic Charity, and attended poverty tours and simulations with Beth Templeton’s “Our Eyes Were Opened.” Through these experiences, I learned that I must first understand the complexity and humanity of poverty before I can respond with wisdom and compassion. And as someone who did not grow up in poverty, I cannot learn about poverty solely from books, but from listening to those living in poverty and allowing my mindset to change.
This weekend, Greenville Forward invites you to participate in a poverty simulation with Beth Templeton from “Our Eyes Were Opened.” In this 2-hour facilitated simulation, you will experience what others in our community experience 24-7. You will be forced to work with others to survive, and probably experience a wide range of emotions accordingly. Through this simulation, your mindset towards poverty may just begin to change. In the discussion afterward we will discuss the different ways to address poverty in our community. Don’t miss out on this one-of-a-kind experience. Get to know your neighbor better.