The Daily Gamecock

Former homeless share first-hand experiences

Panel part of National Hunger and Homeless Week


Charles Witherspoon made excuses when his family in Lancaster would ask to come visit him in Columbia. He didn’t want them to know he was homeless.

A struggle with drugs and alcohol had led the USC graduate and military veteran into poverty. A stint in jail gave him determination.

“I made up my mind when I was locked up that enough was enough,” Witherspoon said. “I’m sick and tired of that life. I wanted to get a job, I wanted to be respected, I wanted to be a respected person.”

Back on his feet, Witherspoon shared his story Wednesday night at Student United Way and Community Service Programs’ Homelessness Awareness Panel. He was joined by others who shared either their first-hand or advocacy experiences with homelessness at the presentation, part of National Hunger and Homelessness Week.

“Homelessness can happen to anybody,” Witherspoon said. “It could be you. You don’t know what tomorrow’s going to bring. It’s the choices and decisions that you make in life.”

Ari Lindenbaum just wanted to get people to listen.

The third-year music student developed an attachment to the cause of advocating for the homeless in part due to the influence of Dr. Bret Kloos’ Honors College service learning course on homelessness in Columbia he took last year. 

Weary of statistics and numbers, Lindenbaum wanted to get to know actual people. For his final advocacy project for the class, he conducted a series of interviews with homeless people in the community, which he shared during the presentation. 

“I really listed to the interviews ... over and over again, so that you can listen to individual words that people are saying,” Lindenbaum said. “And those words have so much meaning because they chose them to express themselves. Even if it’s an unconscious thing, the way they portray themselves ... through the language that they use is important.”

Lindenbaum’s interviews featured one homeless man who said he had tried to work but was laid off because of illness and was no longer eligible to collect government disability assistance. Another man said he had been without a home for six months; he was an alcoholic who said he was “still trying to find my way back to the real world” after his divorce had devastated him 10 years prior.

Lindenbaum has since continued to build relationships with members of the homeless community and is involved with the Columbia advocacy group Homeless Helping the Homeless.

“Take some time to learn and understand about other people. And at first it is depressing to find out that the world isn’t maybe as great as you thought it is,” Lindenbaum said. “But if you don’t find that out, I think maybe you’re living in a different place.”