WUOT Radio Series Offers Insight into World of Homeless

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In any given month, more than 1,600 people in Knox County find themselves without a home. And each has a rich, complex story to tell.

WUOT"The Other Side of the Street" is a new radio series on Public Radio WUOT 91.9 FM that depicts the human side of this pressing social issue.

WUOT News Director Matt Shafer Powell and Knoxville photographer David Habercom have collaborated on the eight-week series that will begin airing Nov. 7 and will run at 5:35 a.m., 7:35 a.m. and 5:45 p.m. every Wednesday through the end of 2007. The segments will play during NPR’s popular news programs "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered."

WUOT is licensed to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

In "The Other Side of the Street," Powell and Habercom address the issue of homelessness in Knox County from a different perspective — through the photos, words and voices of the people who call the streets their home. Each 4.5-minute radio segment will feature three different voices detailing their lives on the street.

Habercom’s photos will appear on WUOT’s Web site, http://wuot.org/.

"This type of program allows us to experience the human side of homelessness," Powell said. "So often, we view the homeless from a distance. As a result, we fail to recognize their humanity, that they’re people who share some of the same hopes, dreams and fears as the rest of us."

"The Other Side of the Street" was Habercom’s brainchild. For years, his powerful portraits of the homeless have provided new insight into those people who live on the fringes of Knox County society.

Ready for the WorldHabercom said he envisions a gallery exhibit in which visitors could see the faces of the homeless, up close, in a dignified setting. At the same time, they could hear the voices of these people talking about their lives. He approached Powell about a collaboration, and Powell jumped at the chance.

The two set up a temporary recording studio in Habercom’s Gay Street portrait studio. Habercom recruits subjects across the street at the Volunteer Ministry Center and brings them to his studio for a portrait sitting.

Habercom said he photographs the homeless people just as they come to him; he doesn’t supply them with clean clothes, makeup or hairstyling. When he takes the photographs, however, he treats each homeless person just as he would a doctor or lawyer paying for a professional portrait. The resulting photos are dignified and beautiful.

"The power resides in the tension between what we expect to see and what we actually see," Habercom said.

Although the radio program begins running in November, Habercom said there’s no date for a gallery exhibit opening.

UT’s Ready for the World initiative is providing promotional assistance for the radio program. The goal of "Ready for the World: The International and Intercultural Awareness Initiative" is to transform the campus into a culture of diversity that best prepares students for working and competing in the 21st century.

More information about "Ready for the World" can be found at http://www.utk.edu/readyfortheworld/.

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