Project 50/50: Labels

People gave me a label. And the label puts me in a box. And I can’t live in a box.

People say that I am ‘an advocate for the homeless’. They say that this is a ‘road trip to raise awareness about homelessness’. They call me the ‘homeless adventurer’. Someone once called me an activist, and that didn’t bother me as much. People have also used the term missionary, and I kind of like that one, except I don’t make people say a prayer after we chat on the sidewalk. The other day a friend said I was like Johnny Appleseed, spreading little seeds of Love everywhere I go, in the hopes that they will grow long after I’m gone. I really liked that analogy. I recently called myself a ‘citizen journalist’…. But let’s be real. What is this?

First, I want to know why people gave me that label. I think the ‘homeless advocate’ thing stems from the fact that I DO things that a lot of ‘homeless advocates’ do. I have been doing these things for 35 weeks now, or over 8 months, and I think it’s time to examine…

I DO work with non-profits, doing volunteer work, providing marketing advice, encouraging a social media presence, exchanging information and providing necessary supplies. I help when and where I can and learn as much as possible in a short amount of time (to date I’ve worked with more than 90 non-profits and shared knowledge with almost 200) —- BUT I don’t work with only organizations dealing with homelessness or housing. I’ve also worked with environmental groups, religious missionaries, animal rescue programs, battered women’s programs, runaway teen programs, after-school programs, alcohol and substance abuse, recovery programs, volunteer fire fighters, foster care programs, churches, cancer care groups, elder care organizations, community development programs, mentoring programs, food banks, food pantries, veterans programs and even a non-profit newspaper. Basically, if they are a non-profit and my interest is piqued, I’ll talk to them.

I DO pass out necessary items to the homeless, like socks, hygiene products, blankets, jackets, ponchos, shoes, back packs, water, clothing, and snacks. To date, more than 3,000 pairs of socks, 100 pairs of shoes, 53 large garbage bags of second hand clothing, and 32 shopping bags of new hygiene products have been collected and donated to homeless communities and individuals throughout the country, and the list goes on (I do have an itemized spreadsheet) —– BUT I don’t do this because I feel sorry for them, or because I blame society for their situation. In reality, their life is my life too. I live, eat, sleep and work in a pick-up truck. I live off of peanut butter crackers and water, I try to stay clean, and I sleep across the bench seats of a truck named Bubba. I am homeless. So I understand what we need. I care, so if I can help (and by the grace of God, I usually can) I will. This is about survival, and because this need is in my face (on the streets of every American town or city) it has become an identifiable way for me to get involved in the improvement of a life.

I DO gather food for food banks and pantries by going door to door in communities around the country and asking if people would like to donate. To date, more than 8,000 food items have been collected and donated to more than 50 non-profits in 35 states. —- This one doesn’t fall into a label. Some Girl Scout troops do this on occasion during annual food drives. I was made an honorary Girl Scout in Oklahoma during the 8th week of the project, so I’m okay with that label. I do this because people should have food. Simple concept.

I DO take photographs of people in poverty. I find out their story. I post some of their stories on my website, my blog, my facebook pages, and I talk about them on twitter —– BUT the photographs I take include much more than just people in poverty. I take almost 1000 images a week. Not all of those people are poor. They are just people that I meet. If I didn’t introduce myself to people this would be one lonely journey. I meet about 50 strangers a week, and they are all living different lives. I want to break through my own assumptions and face my fears head on. I’m learning about our struggles, our triumphs, our generosity, and our faith. I’m learning how these 3 things collide, and manifest in our lives, regardless of where we find ourselves.

My favorite photographs are not ‘pity photos’ or images that simply make you feel sorry for the subject. For the most part, if I did not tell you, there would be no way of knowing if the subject was without a home. For some reason, my finger usually presses the shutter while the subject is in the middle of a laugh. I like to break the stereotype. Bust out of the box. Just because someone doesn’t have a house does not mean they are miserable. In fact, they may be even happier than you are.

I DO raise awareness about poverty. BUT it was not my objective. Raising awareness is a side effect of achievement, not the goal itself. I think it happened when the first news station picked up the story about a girl traveling to all 50 states in 50 weeks with her dog, ”living in a pick-up truck and helping the homeless”. It was irritating that they took the “homeless adventurer” angle, but I rolled with it because people find the fact that I was homeless to be ‘inspiring’. Then the second news station, then the third, then the fourth, then CNN, then a hundred more papers, a dozen more television stations and a handful of radio shows. God only knows how many blogs, websites, etc… I don’t keep track of that stuff, I just say thank you and move on. All of this publicity does raise awareness about homelessness, but I’ve never called a media entity and asked for a story.

Housing alone isn’t going to fix the ‘homeless problem’. Poverty and misery are not that simple. We need people to work on these solutions and to win each and every one of these battles… but exactly what war are we fighting?

Money isn’t going to make the world a better place, despite what we are told to believe. I know plenty of people who already live in houses that are selfish and mean spirited. These are often people with sets of problems much more difficult to solve than figuring out where to sleep at night, and people who have made far worse decisions than missing a couple mortgage payments. Or maybe, even more simply, even more like you, they are just miserable. Can a new house, more money, a nicer car or more stuff make us better people? Will it make us happy? No, but I can tell you what will make EVERYTHING better….

I am not an advocate for the homeless. I am an advocate for LOVE. I am just happy to live in a truck.

Compassion is Love in Action. I don’t care how you do it, but Go, Now! Get involved in your life TODAY. If you like what I do, or something about this project, then look up the definitions of the word ‘humanitarian’ and then DO THAT.

Spread the LOVE ~~~~~~~~~~

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