Coastal Carolina University professors combat homelessness stigma with traveling photo voice exhibit

CONWAY, S.C. (WBTW) — Homelessness is an issue that affects communities on the Grand Strand and beyond.

Two Coastal Carolina University sociology professors, Stephanie Southworth and Sara Brallier, have been studying and advocating for those facing homelessness in Horry County for nearly a decade.

However, Southworth said advocating hasn’t been enough to change the community’s perspective and outlook towards people experiencing homelessness.

“The first thing people ask me is, well, how many of them choose to be homeless? It’s not about them being lazy. It’s actually quite hard. It’s very difficult to be homeless,” said Southworth.

To try and change this, the two created a traveling photo voice exhibit as a way to show the community from the perspective of those who are typically overlooked and misunderstood.

Southworth and Brallier gave disposable cameras to people sleeping outside to take pictures of their day. They would bring them back to either Fresh Brewed Coffee House in Myrtle Beach, or Shepard’s Table in Conway.

Each photographer was asked to pick one photo to be developed and write a quote to give insight into what the picture represents.

The photo exhibit named “Reframing Homelessness” has traveled all across the country and shows what homelessness really looks like through the eyes and photographs of those living on the streets.

“This exhibit has gone a long way to change a lot of people’s perceptions about people experiencing homelessness,” said Southworth.

“Whoever asks us to bring it, we’ve got it in carriable cases,” said Brallier.

The exhibit is sponsored through a grant from South Carolina Humanities.

Southworth and Brallier co-authored a book titled “Homelessness in the 21st Century: Living the Impossible American Dream.”

The book delves into their findings from extensive interviews and fieldwork highlighting various structural challenges faced by the homeless population in Horry County. Barriers such as lack of affordable housing, public transportation that goes far and frequently enough, jobs that pay a livable wage, and criminalization.

A common misconception, Southworth says people believe, is that those experiencing homelessness don’t have a job.

“Even people that are sleeping outside have jobs, and if they get arrested, they lose their job a lot of the time. Every arrest not only gives them a criminal record, but sets them back years. If you have a criminal record of any kind you are not allowed to be in public housing.” she said.

Southworth and Brallier said there are more effective and impactful ways the money Horry County is currently spending on homelessness should be used.

“We’re spending money cleaning up camps, we’re spending money taking people to the jail, we’re already spending money. It would be much better for taxpayers if we were spending money to keep people housed, or to get them off the street than to pay people to watch them in J. Reuben.”

“Numerous studies that show that it is more cost effective to house people than it is to let them live on the streets,” said Brallier.

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Savannah Denton joined News 13 in July 2023 as a reporter and producer. Savannah is from Atlanta, Georgia, and is a graduate of the University of Alabama. Follow Savannah on X, formerly Twitter, and read more of her work here

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