Autumn Stanish came to Flagler College’s English department from the teeming city of Ft. Lauderdale. “Flagler College’s small-school atmosphere,” she says, “was the primary draw for me, as I knew I would have more opportunities to form my education around my goals with one-on-one attention from my professors.”
Around the time Autumn was pondering a capstone project to help the homeless in St. Augustine, she started an internship with the St. Augustine Historical Society. While there, she decided to research the oral history of the local homeless and was surprised to find none existed. “That’s when I figured out what the homeless needed most in our city: a voice.”
The two most significant challenges Autumn faced were how to gain the trust of the homeless and where to conduct the interviews. Home Again St. Johns and St. Johns County Volunteers were crucial in making this project a reality by offering the meeting place. As for the trust, that came gradually. “The first two interviewees spread the word that I was trustworthy, and I was thrilled that I did my part in serving them by accurately portraying their stories,” says Autumn. “Initially, many of those I interviewed were hesitant to share. However, now they often text to update me on their lives. It brings me so much joy to hear how they are progressing in their goals.”
A surprising aspect of this project for Autumn was learning the circumstances which led the homeless to their situations. “I discovered many were subjected to domestic abuse, some lacked support systems, or hurricanes had swept their houses away,” she says. “However, the majority were veterans who were physically or emotionally debilitated by their service and could not hold a job when they returned; therefore, they found solace on the streets with others in similar situations. Overall, they taught me that there is no archetypal homeless individual or population, as each one has a unique story.”
During the interview process, Autumn learned that many homeless were interested in starting their own businesses around their talents instead of trying to fit themselves into a career that isn’t right for them. Upon hearing this, Autumn had an idea to contact some friends at a social entrepreneurial club she had been a part of in her first semester. The club, called Enactus, helped develop a class which would focus on the basics of starting a business. Each week, a guest speaker would come in and discuss a different topic, and at the end of the class, they would work one-on-one with each attendee to talk about how they could apply what they learned to their specific business idea.
As the project progressed and Autumn pored over the quotes from those on the street to whom she had become endeared, she saw the makings of a book which would offer insight into the life of St. Augustine’s homeless population. The book will be titled Street People: Monologues from the Homeless of St. Augustine. Autumn’s dream is to start a nonprofit publishing company in which projects are crowd-sourced, and all proceeds go to charities promoted by the published material. “Nonprofit publishing companies are on the rise,” she says, “and I plan to pioneer one based upon social activism.”
Photography by David Steele