The Upstate Homeless Coalition, in commemoration of its 10th Year
Anniversary, created the Oral History Library to demonstrate the
complexity of homelessness and its solutions. The people in this
are folks that are currently or have been homeless. The interviews, although
the interviewer is called UHC, are volunteers from Furman University (under
the direction of Dr. Michael Borer), Lander University (under the direction of
Rebecca Cox-Davenport), Wofford College, Spartanburg Day School (under the
direction of Allyn Steele), and other interested people in the upstate. The
transcriptions were done by Sarah Gray, Christina Enter, and Melissa
Vaughan-Kleppel, all interns from Converse College under the direction of
Dr.Melissa Walker. Dr. Jonathan Qiao and Jennifer Brown from Converse College,
and Tim Qiao from Riverside High School constructed this part of the web site.
Charles started out with a bright future. He won over 300 applicants a
scholarship at an exclusive prep school in Connecticut. He became unhappy at
the school, being one of only three African-American students at the school.
He began to experiment with drugs while at the school, but eventually left in
his sophomore year. Charles spent the next two years of high school being
involved in the tumultuous activities surrounding him during the last days of
the 1960's. He attended rallies, but also became more involved in drug abuse.
In 1970, Charles attended a leadership retreat for teens, and this is where
he first started taking heroin. Heroin became all consuming, and led him through
a life that was full of strife. He saw his friends die, or contract H.I.V., as
a result of their intravenous drug use.
Charles cleaned up for a while during the 1990's, but relapsed while dealing
with the grief of his parent's deaths. His relapse led to his homelessness,
and eventually brought him from Connecticut to Greenville in search of employment.
He stayed with a sister for a while, but chose to be homeless rather than continue
to live with someone that also had a drug problem. This led him to the Greenville
Rescue Mission, where he thrived, and was eventually recommended for a house
with the Upstate Homeless Coalition. He now lives in a home, and spends his
time working on his sobriety by attending daily NA meetings, and as an out-patient
at the Greenville Mental Health Center. He also attends church in the area, and
hopes to one day return to the Greenville Rescue Mission to lead Bible studies.
He is also interested in mental health issues and addiction recovery and hopes
to attend Greenville Technical College eventually, with a concentration in these
subjects. Charles wants to give back to his community, and would like to
actively help those suffering from addiction.
Pseudonym for Interview #6
After losing her job in Tennessee and moving to Spartanburg, this
client was forced to live in her car. After being repeatedly ousted
from a public rest area for parking over four hours at a time, she was able to
find help when a South Carolina state trooper recommended Miracle Hill Missions.
After three months in the shelter, she was able to obtain housing through the
Upstate Homeless Coalition. She is now working and hopes to enter the nursing
program at Spartanburg Community College.
Crystal found herself homeless after freeing herself from a controlling
and abusive husband. She went to a safe house for abused women with her
two children: her daughter, who was two years old, and her son, who was barely
a few months old. While at the safe house, Crystal met Sandra,
another resident of the home, and learned about the Upstate Homeless Coalition.
She and Sandra both received apartments from the Coalition in the same
community and have continued their friendship. They view each other, as well
as the Upstate Homeless Coalition, as an important support system.
Crystal works full time and is actively saving money towards her future.
She said, "I'm taking itty-bitty steps. In five years I hope to have enough
money saved up to be in some kind of home of my own." Crystal illustrates
what an important difference the Upstate Homeless Coalition can make in the lives
of those who have been helped. The changes in her life have moved beyond the
tangible situation of having a home. As Crystal explains, "I'm beginning
to know what I want: out of myself, out of a relationship, and out of my life
in general. And that's going to help me in taking the steps to getting what
I want. That's going to help me be the person that I want to be."
Mary became homeless after a series of landlords provided poor living
conditions at quickly rising rents. After her final eviction, she lived in
the back room of a barbershop and then with her brother before getting an
apartment through Upstate Homeless Coalition. Though she worked hard to provide
for her 12 year old son, Traylor, she could not afford an apartment on her
income. Her primary concern throughout her ordeal, however, was protecting her
son from homelessness. Now that she is in the program, she is planning to
attend cosmetology school at night while she continues to work and hopes one
day to run a beauty shop with her older daughter.
|Jim and Terri
Pseudonyms for Interview #9
This husband and wife moved to South Carolina to find work, but his
income was simply not enough to pay all of their bills. Soon they found
themselves homeless and living in their car with their two small children.
After overhearing a conversation about the Upstate Homeless Coalition, they
decided to contact them. UHC was able to provide them with housing and help
them get back on their feet. Now, instead of living in a cramped car, their
children have their own bedrooms and are enjoying the playground.
Since obtaining housing, the wife has returned to college. They hope
to one day have their own home. Until then, they are looking to help others
who have struggled like them.
The Cramer family could very well represent a good majority of American families,
and they show how easily homelessness can happen to any of us. Mr. Cramer was a
successful district manager for a shoe company, having left a career as an
insurance salesman. The family moved to South Carolina from North Carolina,
and had a mistaken lapse in auto insurance. This is when the entire family
was involved in a severe auto accident. Mrs. Cramer and the children escaped
serious injury, but Mr. Cramer was not so lucky. He was in a coma, and was
hospitalized for quite sometime. He also suffered a brain injury which seriously
impaired his memory, and eventually his performance at his job. After a year,
in the midst of the family's mounting medical bills, Mr. Cramer was let go from
his job. This began a downward spiral that led to the family living out of a
U-Haul van for several days. The sense of hopelessness is overwhelming for many
homeless people, as Mrs. Cramer explains, "You know, you can't tell your kids
it's going to get better, it really is, when you can't feel that. You know,
it's frightening." Mr. Cramer furthers the sentiment: "I've always been taught
if you don't work; you don't eat. I mean, that's the idea, so it was very hard.
I was full of anger, frustration, disappointment. How could the world turn on
you like that, you know? I was a decent human; I wasn't a criminal, I wasn't
a crook. I was unable to perform my fatherly responsibilities as such, because,
I couldn't, you know, provide a home; the basic necessities. It's not a good feeling...
not a good feeling." Their daughter's pediatrician learned of their situation,
and sponsored them through the Upstate Homeless Coalition. They were given a
two-bedroom house in the Judson community to accommodate their family of five,
but this was enough for the family, and they were pleased to have a home.
They were eventually moved into a three-bedroom home near the end of their stay
in Upstate Homeless Coalition's transitional housing. Mrs. Cramer said of the
UHC: "They were there as a cushion as much as being someone that offered us a
home." She goes on to explain that UHC offers homeless people, not only a home,
but they help with necessities, and most importantly, they offer support and a
sense of hope, as she says, "Even when we thought, there is no future; they made
us believe that there might be one out there." Through their involvement in the
UHC, the Cramer's made important connections that continued to help them, even
after their stay in the transitional housing came to an end. Mr. Cramer found
a job that he could handle through Mike Chesser of UHC, he explains, "Rev. Jerry
Hill from Buncombe United Methodist, and Mike Chesser, who are friends and also
on the boards at different places, well, I was put in touch with Mr. Hill, I
went for an interview, and I became the bus driver for this new group: Interfaith
Hospitality Network. It's called G.A.I.H.N. That's Greenville Area Interfaith
Hospitality Network. It's a nation wide group. And five and a half years later,
I'm still with them. It filled a void in my life, in a sense that as I was being
helped, I was helping others." The organization also directed the Cramer's to
legal aid, which helped the family to gain Mr. Cramer's disability payment from
Social Security after five years of denial. And just recently they have
purchased a home, with the help of those that they met on their journey through
UHC's program. Of moving into a new home, that his family owns, Mr. Cramer
said: "It's like walking out of hell and living in heaven again."
Kristin became homeless at twelve years old. Her mother was addicted to drugs,
and her father was in jail at the time, leaving Kristin and her older sister to
fend for themselves. They lived a transient life - living with friends and on
the streets. The two sisters stayed together until her older sister became
pregnant at which time Kristin and her sister were separated, leaving Kristin
alone on the streets.
Kristin was eventually put into foster care and then placed with her father
when he was released from prison, but this only lasted until she was 16, at
which point she resumed a transient lifestyle alternately living with her sister,
friends, or on the streets.
The Upstate Homeless Coalition helped Kristin in September 2007, and she now
has a permanent home of her own and in January finished the prep classes to
receive her G.E.D. She hopes to continue her education at Greenville Technical
College and plans to become a nurse or to work in a school as a teacher's
assistant or guidance counselor.
Laurie is a 46-year-old woman in Spartanburg, South Carolina. She lost
her daughter in an accident in 2000. Soon after her daughter's death, she lost
her stepfather and her biological father. To cope with the tragedy in her life,
Laurie began binge drinking. After several run-ins with the law, she lost her
nursing license and driver's license. She attempted suicide multiple times and
spent time in a psychiatric facility. With nowhere to go, she moved in with her
mom and brother, but when her crack addicted brother became abusive, she knew
she had to find somewhere else to live. She contacted Glenda at the Upstate
Homeless Coalition and now lives in one of their apartments. She has completed
probation for her violations and hopes to have her nursing license reinstated soon.
After her divorce, Margaret managed to keep homelessness at bay while her
children remained at home, even if it meant living in substandard housing.
Once they were grown, however, the burden of finding housing became too much for
Margaret. At the suggestion of a friend, she contacted a soon-to-be-opened
women's shelter. Within a few months, she was living in the shelter as a
Margaret lived in the shelter for four years. She used this time not only to
help other women, but also as an opportunity to work through her own issues.
She also completed two years of college while living in the shelter. Deciding
she needed to follow her own advice to other women, Margaret began seeking
housing of her own. With the help of her church, she was able to purchase a
used mobile home, which she now owns, along with the accompanying land, outright.
After securing housing, Margaret began working for Upstate Homeless Coalition
as a caseworker. Ten years later, she is now leaving her position as caseworker
to work on the computer system at UHC. Once again, she is following her own
advice to stay challenged and follow where opportunity leads.
Mary, from Newberry, SC, became homeless after becoming addicted
to crack cocaine. She maintained her habit by manipulation and violence, and
she spent a total of 17 non-consecutive years in jail.
She reached her lowest point when she slept underneath a church for two weeks
without food. When she finally emerged, she passed out in a nearby woman's yard,
where she was rushed to the hospital. There, she was diagnosed with multiple
illnesses including diabetes and high blood pressure. Realizing she needed help,
she entered a long-term rehabilitation facility called Rosewood.
After nearly two years at Rosewood, Mary was placed in permanent housing at
Reedy Place in Greenville, SC, through the Upstate Homeless Coalition.
Michael grew up in Gray Court, South Carolina, as the middle child
of nine children. After graduating from high school, he entered the workforce
in various manual labor jobs and eventually relocated to Greenville.
In 1980, Michael experienced a nervous breakdown and began getting disability
checks from the Mental Health Department. In addition to his emotional
difficulties, Michael also suffered from macular degeneration in his eyes and
was unable to drive because of his poor vision.
After moving to a housing project in Greenville, Michael began drinking and
experimenting with crack cocaine. His addiction to crack led to his homelessness,
which lasted between 10 to 15 years. He remained addicted to crack cocaine and
alcohol throughout his time on the streets.
Mental Health tried repeatedly to place him in housing, but he would get evicted
due to non-payment of rent when all of his money was spent on crack cocaine.
Eventually, Michael was placed in Upstate Homeless Coalition's Reedy Place in
downtown Greenville. This is permanent housing for the chronically homeless.
Michael is now clean and looks forward to the day when he can have a place of
his own, though he speaks fondly of Reedy Place and its director, Venus "Momma"
Natasha and her boyfriend were given an eviction notice from their apartment
manager after an altercation that involved the police. With nowhere to go,
they were facing life on the street. A friend recommended the Upstate Homeless
Coalition. Natasha contacted Sherry at UHC, and they were able to arrange
housing for her prior to her eviction date.
Since obtaining housing through UHC, Natasha has continued counseling and has
been working to obtain disability with the aid of an attorney. She hopes that
she and her boyfriend will be able to get a house of their own at some point
in the future.
Ray is not a unique example of homelessness, and he exhibits the ingenuity
and tenacity that many are forced to live on the streets display. Ray was in
full-time employ, as he explained, "For 25 years, here in Seneca, I done a
regular job everyday." He lost his job when the owners, who were well into
their 90's, were forced to close their business due to illness. While Ray was
a skilled upholsterer with 25 years experience, he was unable to find another
job comparable with his long term job, only finding a low wage maintenance job,
and began the steady decline into homelessness. This is not hard to do, as the
National Low Income Housing Coalition reported in 1998, "Declining wages have
put housing out of reach for many workers: in every state, more than the minimum
wage is required to afford a one- or two-bedroom apartment at Fair Market Rent."
Ray soon fell into the trap of being unable to find full-time permanent work
because he no longer had an address. He was determined to continue working,
however, and daily stood in line at the daily manual labor offices that pepper
America's urban landscapes. He would do odd jobs, even for a stint travelling
around, living a completely transient lifestyle in search of employment, and
after spending time working and being homeless in Atlanta and Washington, D.C.,
Ray returned to the Upstate, where he found a slot at Miracle Hill. While at
Miracle Hill, Ray worked the required 3 to 4 hours per day to pay for his room
and board, but was unable to find permanent employment because of his lack of
a car or viable public transport in the Upstate.
Ray eventually returned to his hometown of Seneca where he resided in an
abandoned house. While he had family in the area, Ray said that he was always
independent and only learned to ask for help when he came into contact with
Sherry from the Upstate Homeless Coalition. Ray moved into an apartment in
Oconee County in November of 2007 that he got with the help of the UHC. Ray
hopes to move on from his transactional housing in an expedient manner because
of his concern for the homeless in the Upstate. As he said, "I felt like,
in about a year and a half, I think I'll be on my feet then, and I'll be saving
me up some money and stuff, you know, to become fully independent on my own.
I was thinking that I'd move out of here and give someone else the opportunity,
because there is more than what y'all see around here. There's a lot of homeless
Richard is a resident of Reedy Place, permanent housing for
chronically homeless people in Greenville, South Carolina. He is originally
from Camden, New Jersey. After his mother died in childbirth, Richard was
placed in a foster home, and then he was adopted. His adopted mother's
boyfriend was abusive. Richard dropped out of school in the fifth grade,
joined a gang, and became a drug dealer.
At the age of 13, Richard shot and killed a rival gang member, and he was sent
to prison. After prison, Richard lived both by himself and with his mother.
He came down to Greenville to visit his pregnant girlfriend (and future wife)
and became stranded in Greenville when his money was stolen.
Soon Richard and his wife were addicted to crack cocaine. In addition to
living in housing projects and the Rescue Mission, Richard also lived on the
streets of Greenville. All of his disability checks went towards his addiction,
and his wife was driven to prostitution to support their habit. When his health
worsened (he has epilepsy), he decided to turn his life around. He now lives in
Reedy Place where he runs a Bible study and has visitations with his daughters.
Saundra illustrates a prevalent cause of homelessness. She was a
victim of domestic abuse and as a result lost her home. Saundra fled in
the night after the most severe attack she had suffered and chose to press
charges against her husband and enter into a safe house instead of staying with
her abuser. This is a difficult move for many women to make because not the
least of their concerns is often the prospect of becoming homeless. Saundra
was able to salvage many of the furnishings from her home with her husband and
began her life in her new transitional home provided by the Upstate Homeless
Coalition surrounded by familiar things - a luxury many homeless people are not
Saundra suffered the psychological scars of her years of abuse and felt
timid and frightened in her own home. However, the Upstate Homeless Coalition
provided her with ongoing psychiatric care, and Saundra is finding strength
and contentment within her new life. She says that her bond with her family,
children, and grandchildren has become stronger, and that she sees her family
quite often - something her husband had never allowed before. She has, since
moving into her transitional home, divorced her husband, filed a restraining
order, and began her application for a disability check, as she is a breast
cancer survivor. She feels safe again, and says, "The person that I see myself
as now is a long way from the person that I was because I'm not as scared or
as timid or frightened because I pray constantly. And I just feel that the
person that I've become now is the person that God intended me to be at this
particular point in my life, but I still know that he has something greater in
store for me."
Celena is a 33 year old woman who became homeless, along with her three
children, in 1999. After a car accident, celena lost her job and had to move
out of her apartment. She lived in a hotel and with a friend until she ran out
of money. That was when she went to the homeless shelter that is now called
Miracle Hill, in downtown Spartanburg. She and her children lived there for
one day short of a year, when she moved into an apartment under the sponsorship
of the Upstate Homeless Coaltion.
celena, a graduate of the Upstate Homeless Coalition's program, is now married
to a minister with whom she is raising her three children, a boy and two girls.
She works at Spartanburg Regional, the Spartanburg Children's Shelter, and she
also works as a hairdresser in the evenings. Though her three jobs keep her
busy, she still finds time have a Bible study at the homeless shelter and to
cheer on her children at their many school activities.
Venus grew up in a typical family setting with two parents, multiple
siblings, and a good education. Her world was shaken, however, when her
23-year-old brother committed suicide during her sophomore year in college.
Unable to cope with her emotions, Venus began to drink and experiment with
During her college years, Venus was the victim of a date rape. After the
legal system mishandled her case, she lost interest in her chosen area of study:
the law. Abandoning her dreams of becoming a lawyer, Venus entered the
corporate world after completing her degree. She also married after college.
Unfortunately, her husband became abusive, and her self-medication through
drugs continued. When she finally decided to leave her abusive marriage,
Venus also abandoned her career and her life. Soon she was on the streets
living from one high to the next.
Throughout her two to three years of homelessness, Venus's father never lost
hope for her recovery. She was often approached with offers of help from her
father's friends. Though she was too ashamed to accept his offer to live with
him, she would periodically go to him for food and shelter.
Venus finally decided to seek long-term help for addiction. After spending
time in Rosewood, a long-term treatment facility for women, she reentered normal
life and the working world. Soon she was volunteering at Rosewood, and she
eventually became the facility's director. Through her connections at Greenville
Mental Health, she heard about the Upstate Homeless Coalition's newest project,
Reedy Place, a permanent housing solution for the chronically homeless. She
now serves as Reedy Place's director, a caring mother figure for residents who
desperately need her unconditional love.
Yolanda took a voluntary layoff at her job in anticipation of a new position
in management. When the new position fell through, she was forced to take
whatever jobs the temporary agency could find her. After becoming pregnant
with her second son, Cameron, she unable to work for a while. Soon she was
behind on her rent. After securing another temporary position, her landlord
demanded all of her back rent. When she could not pay, she was served with a
notice of eviction.
When her family would not help her with housing, Yolanda contacted Glenda at
the Upstate Homeless Coalition. Unfortunately, there was a two to three month
waiting list. With nowhere to go, Yolanda was facing life in a shelter when a
friend offered her couch for Yolanda and her two boys, Robert and Cameron.
After three months on her friend's couch, Yolanda was placed in an apartment
Now that Yolanda has completed the program, she is working hard to buy a house
with more room for her and her growing boys. In addition to her job at the
sheriff's department, she also volunteers at a program called the Fatherhood
Coalition. She is also completing her Bachelor's Degree in Business and plans
to complete an additional degree in Sociology. Her oldest son, Robert hopes
to one day follow in his mother's footsteps and attend college - playing
football for the Gamecocks.
Yvonne is a good example of someone who has become homeless due to drug
abuse, but she is also a good example of someone who "self medicates" primary
psychiatric problems. Yvonne was raised in a home where she never felt
allowed to express emotion, and this proved detrimental when she was molested
as a young girl. She carried the feelings associated with this type of abuse,
and never leaned to deal with them. This led to her drug abuse and her eventual
Yvonne found her way to Greenville from Atlanta one fateful night when she
felt she had nowhere left to turn in Atlanta. This journey led her to The
Salvation Army, and eventually to The Upstate Homeless Coalition. Yvonne
offers us important insight on what it is like for a woman to live on the streets,
she says, "Being homeless...I'm going to put it like this; you take a chance of
being raped, beat, or killed. You are lucky if that's all that happens to you."
She also speaks of the toll homelessness takes on self-esteem, and feelings of
worthlessness. Yvonne places society's lack of concern for mental illness
as one of the major contributors of homelessness, and it is her opinion that if
there were better and more comprehensive mental health care facilities, there
would be less homelessness.
Yvonne now lives in a home that she is truly proud of, and says, "There are
times when I look around, at what a beautiful place this is, and think of what
heaven must be like. If God put a place this beautiful on Earth, imagine how
beautiful heaven is." She is now clean and sober, and is learning to trust and
be a part of the community. She says that she is getting closer with her neighbors,
and is happy to learn to have friends, and all of this has helped her regain her
self-esteem, and dignity.