Coastal Carolina University students are counting the homeless.
The effort is part of the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s national point-in-time count that lasts from January 25 - 31. In Horry County, the count is conducted by the Eastern Carolina Homeless Organization, which serves 12 counties in South Carolina.
Coastal Carolina University Sociology Professor Stephanie Southworth is the Horry County Coordinator for ECHO, and requires the dozens of students in her social inequality class to volunteer for the count.
It really does make you realize what you take for granted.
Hailey Minten CCU student
“We want to know where people slept on the night of January 25,” said Southworth. “All the counties in the United States are doing the same week in January. The more people we count, the more resources we can get through government entities such as HUD.”
The data are used to determine the homeless population in each area where the count is conducted as well as to collect data on drug abuse, disease or numbers of other homeless subgroups such as youth or veterans.
“Too many people, my students and people on the street, have all these stereotypes of what it means to be homeless,” said Southworth. “And those stereotypes, for the most part, aren’t true. And so I know that a lot of my students have found this very fulfilling and exciting to know that everybody’s human.”
Too many people, my students and people on the street, have all these stereotypes of what it means to be homeless. And those stereotypes, for the most part, aren’t true.
Stephanie Southworth, CCU professor
Freshman sociology major Hailey Minten volunteered for the count to get class credit but came back for another day after becoming interested in the project.
“It’s just kind of unique just to see everybody’s different stories and where they all came from,” said Minten. “Some of the people even choose to be homeless and that’s kind of shocking to me.”
Volunteers handed out bags containing socks, gloves, hats and granola bars to any homeless person who was counted, and Minten said it was rewarding to see their reactions.
“It really does make you realize what you take for granted,” Minten said. “We’re gonna go get in our car where it’s warm, have a phone, don’t have to worry about anything. It definitely does open your eyes to what people take for granted and what they don’t.”
More than just numbers
The point-in-time count is used to establish a baseline homeless population and is a key statistic in the formula that’s used for allocating federal money to nonprofits such as ECHO.
But the effort also helps to raise awareness for the area’s homeless population.
“A lot of people don’t understand or realize the gravity of homelessness, especially in an area like Myrtle Beach where you can see people walking down the street and you may not even realize they’re homeless,” said Kyle Jenkins, Eastern Carolina Homeless Organization’s program director. “But if you ask them and you talk to them and you get to know their story, you realize you’re one step away from being homeless.”
We don’t really have a warming shelter for people to hang out during the day. They go into hiding.
Kyle Jenkins, ECHO
Over the past several years, the number of homeless people counted in Horry County has decreased from 840 in 2013 to 735 in 2016. Jenkins said the organization has made a small dent in the homeless population, but not to the extent shown by the decrease in the number of homeless counted.
“The sheltered ones are pretty easy to count because they’re all gathered in the one area, but when you’re talking about someone that’s homeless, living in the woods, the majority of the counties that we serve are rural,” said Jenkins. “How do we find everybody? How do we count everybody?
“You can see a correlation between the amount of volunteer effort that you get to how the numbers come out,” he said. “And last year, we didn’t have a huge volunteer effort that was able to go out there and count so we have a lower number.”
Another factor is the weather.
In other cities, warming shelters help concentrate the homeless population which makes them easier to count, said Jenkins. But not in Myrtle Beach.
“We don’t really have a warming shelter for people to hang out during the day,” he said. “They go into hiding.”
Christian Boschult, 843-626-0218, @TSN_Christian