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Senior in Social Work works to foster awareness and empathy for unhoused population  

Alyssa Tyler editor in chief  

Senior in social work, Ellie Wheeler was tasked with creating a project of facilitating community level change. In the macrolevel social work course students could choose from a variety of different groups, the elderly, domestic violence victims, children, however, considering the recent controversy in Southeast Kansas, Wheeler chose to work with the unhoused population in Southeast Kansas. Particularly, after finding a Facebook group titled ‘Citizens for Pittsburg.’ 

“It came from a Facebook group that has come out recently in Pittsburg, Kansas,” Wheeler said. “I didn’t realize how negatively some people viewed the unhoused population and it really upset me… I had a lack of trust in humanity afterwards and (now what) I’m really trying to do with this is increase humanity.” 

Wheeler will conduct the interviews with five un-housed individuals and has also provided disposable cameras to each of the individuals she is interviewing. So, they can capture important or non-important parts of their day as they live their day to day lives. 

“With Wesley House I have been doing an interview process with a group of five currently unhoused people. (Through these interviews I’ve started) learning their story and getting to know them as a person. I decided to do that because I’m looking to humanize the un-housed population and there’s a lot of stigmas that goes around with homeless people, there’s bad apples in every bunch of course… but with that being said, they are humans and they deserve to be cared for in the same way that people who have homes do.” 

Every individual’s story is different; however, Wheeler has found a common theme throughout all of the interviews. 

“They want to be dignified but they understand their lifestyle and their circumstances,” Wheeler said. “And their circumstances are very unorthodox, it’s not an everyday thing that people experience. And a lot of them are extremely self-aware about their struggles and how they want to change their lives and resources that would help them change their lives. But with that being said, they all have a passion for others, and I found that they are probably one of the most caring group of people I’ve ever met. They have their own community in themselves. They support each other. They help each other out. No man left behind when it comes to their community.” 

The Wesley House will be able to use the story bank to further their efforts in providing resources for the unhoused population.  

“In social work certain values, like dignity and worth of the person is always first and foremost with everything we do,” Wheeler said. “When we look past all those things, we use a strength-based perspective, so we’re looking at positives, not negatives. So, I understand that’s not the view of everything. A lot of people do things they shouldn’t, but if you think of it from a different perspective, it might be a little easier to understand.” 

Wheeler said the end goal of the project is to open conversations as well allowing people to see these issues from another perspective.  

“I really want to just open a conversation about humanity and with the photos,” Wheeler said. “It’s from their perspective. I want to put into perspective how much these people are struggling and how important these resources are for them.” 

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