HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - What's the first thing you think when you see a homeless person in our area? A group of Coastal Carolina University students is working to shed light on the perception and reality of the homeless in Horry County.
Three Coastal Carolina University students have spent time in homeless camps, homeless shelters, even parks, learning more about the people they're studying. And now they want community input- they are doing a survey on the average person's perception of the homeless right here in Horry County.
"We want the people who want to save them all, and we want the people who want them out, and we want the people who never even seen a homeless person in Horry County," according to Emma Kroger, Swain Scholar at CCU. "We want everyone to take our survey." It's about a five minute survey- completely anonymous, with basic questions.
"When they first think of a homeless person, what do they think of?" Kroger said as an example. "Do they think of an old man, an old woman, children, families? So, we're really going to gather the perceptions that the people have in the community and then compare that to the reality of who they actually are as people."
What they've found so far from the responses they've received, is that the perception is not the whole reality.
"They've almost just become an annoyance to people," Kroger continued. "The drug addict, or mental illness is a big one, people think they are basically crazy. Or it's kind of the old man under the bridge stereotype."
The students have canvassed the entire county, from Myrtle Beach to Loris, interviewing homeless people about what led them to this particular junction in life.
"There's a huge majority of homeless people that are actually high school students," Nancy Phillips, another Swain Scholar working on the research project, said. "And whole families. Like, three children, a father and a mother still together. It's just they get into a circumstance, which happens to everybody, that they can't get out of."
Many others are people trying to escape from dangerous situations. "Mothers and children who came out of abusive households," Phillips added.
The students have done extensive legwork, also interviewing people in charge of homeless outreach programs. That is time spent on the other half of their project, telling the stories of the homeless people throughout the county.
"Bridging that gap between the perceptions of what we find in the survey and the reality of what we find in the interviews is what we want to broadcast through social media sites and through eventually a publication with a compilation of all their stories," according to Kerry Dittmeier, the third Swain Scholar working on the project.
By combining perception and reality, the students hope it can be the start of a long battle to change in the area.
"Get them that halfway housing they need," Kroger said. "Get that medical attention that so many of them desperately need. And just a bed at night."
"In order to change these perceptions and show who these people are, we have to know what people think first," Phillips said..
To take the survey, visit this link: http://snap.coastal.edu/snapwebhost/s.asp?k=144735495926.