Many in Murfreesboro know Scott Walker as the president of WGNS, Rutherford County’s “Good Neighbor Station” (coming to your radio at 1450 AM, and 100.5 FM).
Though on the side Walker is gaining some attention as a photographer, blogger and, to a lot of folks who do not have many others in their life to talk with, a good neighbor.
Chronicled on his blog, smalltownbigworld.com, Walker’s photography project features images and stories of many of our society’s overlooked individuals, and through that medium Walker is able to tell many tales that may otherwise go untold, the majority of them coming from homeless men and women.
I call him Spoon Man because he plays the spoons . . . Spoon Man has lived on the streets for the past 8 years. However, he quit drinking 11 years ago. 11 years was too late because it caused serious neurological problems . . .
I bought Spoon Man a foot-long steak and cheese sub. I watched as he ate a little less than half and then he carefully wrapped the remainder of the sandwich in paper and then placed it in his bag. I asked why he did not eat it all and he said, “I want to give the rest to a friend of mine.” He later told me that his friend is also homeless and that she is likely hungry.
Those who are homeless often give everything they have to others.
Rest in Peace. He was found dead on the morning of Saturday, 9/26/15, Walker wrote in one of the numerous accounts on his site.
Walker says he has always liked photography, and during his time in the Navy, stationed on the USS Kearsarge near Virginia Beach, developed his practice of “street photography.”
“Whenever I got off work each day I would go take pictures in the area,” Walker said. “But the cost was so high to develop (the film) I gave it up.”
Years later, after coming back to Middle Tennessee and WGNS, his family’s business, he obtained a digital camera.
“I just went out and started taking photos in Nashville,” Walker said.
He did not necessarily set out with the vision of starting his present photo blog, “I just noticed in almost every picture there was a homeless person somewhere,” he explains.
It was then that he set out to find these people, so often overlooked but generally in need of someone to talk to, and often with an incredible story to tell.
“I’ve met some interesting people,” the photographer tells the Murfreesboro Pulse. And while sometimes the stories can be far-fetched, if not altogether crazy, “I usually don’t question their story, I just go along with it.”
Nearly everyone he approaches seems appreciative that someone is paying attention to them and that they have someone to talk with, he says; “Only one or two times has someone gotten mad or threatened me in some way,” Walker said.
Many of the individuals that Walker has photographed have remained in his life well beyond that initial meeting and click of the shutter, and he has many friends and close relationships that have developed from his Small Town Big World work.
It is not uncommon for Walker to take time out of his day to help someone pay their bills, to drop off medicine, water, diapers or food, to join someone in the process of getting into an apartment, assisting others with finding work or filling out a job application.
“It’s about building relationships, maintaining them,” Walker said. “The biggest thing is just trying to help them where they are.”
He says he often sees volunteers get burned out; they want to see immediate results, a feel-good story about someone cleaning up their life and getting off the streets. But often, Walker points out, the issues that plague the homeless community run far deeper than what a single hot meal, blanket, or even a home can solve.
Walker said he has known about the significant homeless population in the area for years, well before he began his blog; in fact, WGNS has organized blanket drives each winter and distributed them for years.
“But I wasn’t aware of how bad the problem of mental illness was in the homeless community,” Walker continued. “The truth is, a large percentage of them couldn’t hold down a job because of schizophrenia [or] bipolar disorder” or other mental issues, often a combination of multiple mental disorders going on in one mind, compounded by years of alcohol or drug abuse and a lack of loving relationships.
“I’ve talked to quite a few kicked out of their family’s house because the family didn’t know what to do with them, and how to handle their mental illness,” Walker said. “There are a lot of Vietnam veterans out there on the streets, suffering from PTSD. They can’t function in big groups of people.”
Still, one individual at a time, he is attempting to make a positive difference in the lives of our neighbors in the most unfortunate situations, and he keeps up with dozens of the people he has met on the streets, under bridges, and near homeless shelters and food banks.
He gives away a lot, but when someone asks to borrow money for necessities, he expects to be paid back, and he generally is.
“I don’t hassle them about it, but I make sure they pay,” Walker said. “Working to earn that money to repay the loan helps gives them a purpose, and teaches responsibility and financial management.
He says there are many great organizations in Murfreesboro that work with the homeless: Last Call 4 Grace, Journey Home and Greenhouse Ministries as well as others. He points out that Liquidation Outlet gives out numerous tents to those who need them.
Taking his Small Town Big World project to the next level, Walker plans to put out a book in 2016 with the help of Amy Parker, a Murfreesboro resident who recently authored a biography on Jack Hanna and has also written numerous devotionals and prayer-themed books for children, teens and adults.
Until then, there’s a message Walker wants to spread with his project:
“Just get out there and talk to strangers . . . even though our mothers told us not to,” he said.
To view his Small Town Big World photo project, visit smalltownbigworld.com.