Jeff Akers’ latest film project started with his ministry — and with lunch.
While serving meals to homeless people in Greenville, the pastor of I Am Church on Laurens Road “realized there was much more that I could do to educate others about the homeless epidemic within the Upstate and the South as a filmmaker.”
So Akers, who had started making films as a student in China and Taiwan, decided to document the faces of homelessness in Greenville, and then took to the road to explore other areas in the South.
The resulting documentary, “Homeless in the South,” takes an in-depth view into the lives of the homeless and the efforts to help them in Greenville as well as cities in Alabama, Georgia, and North Carolina.
The film will have its second public screening in Greenville on Thursday, June 29, at the Peace Center
About half of the film takes place in Greenville, Akers says, “because in the state of South Carolina, they have more homelessness than any other county,” he says. “So the story kept coming back to Greenville.”
His ministry started in Greenville in 2015 when he and some other local churches teamed up to work in the Buncombe Street area.
“There are so many different levels of homelessness, and each case is different,” he says. “But what was common as a starting point for most homeless people when I asked them, a majority of them dealt with loss — death of a sibling or a parent — and they just didn’t have time to recover. A majority of them dealt with something that put them in that position. They were already fighting one battle.”
Akers then went to other cities in the South, “just kind of following the trail,” over a year and a half.
“We found participating citizens by building relationships by visiting their camps, often with supporting community groups and the church members of I Am Church. Also, spending time in homeless camps allowed me to see certain trends to find them in other states and regions, because they seem to have similar needs.”
The South’s homeless situation is unique, Akers learned.
“Those who are homeless in the South have an easier time getting food than in the North, and it appears that homeless people in Greenville have a stronger sense of compassion and brotherly love toward each other,” he says. “What’s unique is the fact that the rise of homelessness is growing more rapidly here than in other any county in the state.”
Self-made communities within the woods are also larger in Greenville than homeless groups in the other states he visited, Akers discovered.
“It’s different for each city,” he says. “They all have a different feel. In some [the homeless] will talk to you, and in others that will never happen. They don’t want you to pry. And rightly so. It takes longer to build relationships.”
The stories he heard on his journey were profound and affecting, he says. “Each and every story stands out for different reasons, but one of the most difficult ones that stood out was one of the citizens sharing her struggle of being seven months pregnant and homeless and knowing that our team would have to leave her behind.”
One goal of “Homeless in the South” is to highlight organizations working to help the homeless in each city.
“Although we have service providers, a lot of people weren’t aware of how to get help,” he says. “There’s a lot of different places and agencies that can help, but they’re not designed to take everybody in the city. They’re 20, 30, 40 people versus a couple of hundred. … I think the average person wouldn’t know where to send a homeless person.”
A number of resources are listed on projecthomelessoutpost.org, the website of Project Homeless Outpost, which Akers founded.
A musician, Akers also wrote and performed the score for the film.
“Homeless in the South” is an extension of his ministry and community action, Akers says.
“My philosophy and belief is that we’re supposed to be the church, not go to church,” he says. “And in order to do that, you have to be in the community.”
“Homeless in the South”
Thursday, June 29, 6:30 p.m.
The Peace Center, Gunter Theatre