In our society, most people would prefer not to interact with the Homeless. We tend to judge them too quickly and label them as derelicts, delinquents, drunks or drug addicts. At the least, most communities think of them as a nuisance.
Since my teens, I have been curious and wanted to understand how a person becomes homeless. I see people walk by the Homeless and turn their heads the other way, as if they are invisible ghosts of society. But they are not invisible and they should be recognized as fellow humans. Everyone has a story and as I have gotten to know the local Homeless, I have found most of them are quite interesting people! They once had a home, family, jobs. I have met an ex-millionaire athlete, stock investors, business owners, you name it; all now homeless.
No one should be hungry, lonely or ignored and my goal is to make sure society acknowledges that homelessness is everyone’s problem. If we don’t address this issue, it will only get worse. I started to videotape the Homeless in order to make them visible and give them a voice. Most want work, homes or safe shelter. But the system is broken, so I’m trying to fix it. Ivo and Stella’s stories broke my heart. Tom and Jerry’s uplifted my spirit – I have seen them several times and they are always happy and grateful. Jerry’s sister thought he was dead and finding him through my videos made me realize that I can be helpful in a variety of ways.
My personal intention is to educate and engage the Miami Beach community, so together we can find ways to acknowledge and help our Homeless, raise their spirits, renew their self esteem, as well as find proper ways to help so they don’t have to live like castaways on the streets, sleeping on the ground in doorways, rummaging through the garbage, and panhandling just to eke out a meager existence.
There are other cities, like Albuquerque, NM, that understood the objections many Homeless have to accepting shelters and help. Now they offer jobs first. This has been very successful. I spoke with the Mayor’s office and they told me the majority of the individuals accepting work later accepted shelter and other benefits. As I always say in my videos: “The Homeless are individuals like you and me.” Do you like people, strangers, telling you what to do? I sure don’t and neither do they. They don’t like to be given ''conditions.” They want to have control of their own lives, just like us!
Some cities offer shelters but they don't have enough beds for everyone. The ultimate solution is permanent housing and I hope cities, government, developers, and the business communities come to realize that and work together toward this goal. This will also save money for tax payers. But while we wait for this to happen, we must take care of basic necessities. The Homeless are people, not animals! San Francisco understood that and now offers them restrooms and showers.
That said, the plan is to “humanize” the homeless and perhaps they will have more spirit and willingness to take the first step toward getting out of the streets. I call it Project Humanization:
a) Offer showers, haircuts, clean clothes, so the Homeless look better and are presentable for work in the hope they will feel better and accept the help the city has to offer to begin the process of getting out of the streets;
b) Offer public restrooms and showers so the Homeless will not resort to defecating in public or on private property, and will have the means to stay clean – a sanitary issue that affects all of us and also provides a path for the Homeless to move forward with their lives. After all, how can one think of looking for a job or a home if you have to defecate in public or haven’t even had a shower in a week?
Favela Miami was born to help the Homeless with all these issues and eventually grow to offer assistance to the low income and the elderly (for whom I have special affection). It is a work in progress, but I plan to follow models like the city of Albuquerque and San Francisco.