January 29, 2014

The Man With No Shoes + $2 Portraits

I was outside with Brutus a couple of days ago, bent over and picking up his business while trying to activate the eyes on the back of my head as he pulled my arm behind me and tried to keep trucking down the street, when I saw a pair of feet walking towards us.

Feet. Toes. Was I seeing this right? 

Where was this guys shoes? 

I scanned up, and his eyes met mine. The man quickly explained to me that his work boots were digging into his feet and he had to go to the hospital, but that he had accidentally left his boots at the hospital, and he was trying to find another pair of boots. 

This man was clearly homeless, and my head simply wasn't in the right place as I was trying to process the situation while trying to hold back tears and keep all 80 pounds of Brutus out of oncoming traffic ... and the only response that I could muster out was "That's super unfortunate, it looks painful! I'm so sorry!" 

He told me Brutus was beautiful, and I thanked him and told him that I hope that he has a nice day. 

I. Feel. Like. Such. An. Ass. 

And this man has been weighing so heavy on my heart and in my thoughts ever since. 

I've been replaying this scenario over and over again in my head - I had Brutty's leash in one hand and my keys and poop bags in the other. I mean, reflecting back, I certainly could have asked the man right then and there if he needed shoes and I could have turned back to the apartment to grab a pair of TJ's ... but would that have been safe? Would it have been the right thing to do? I just don't know. 

What I do know is that I need to get involved. Someway, somehow ... I need to. I wrote about this a couple of months ago, but then I flew home twice and the holidays happened, and the days just seem to go by too fast to figure it all out. 

I called the church around the corner to inquire about their volunteer opportunities ... but honestly? Honestly, I'm afraid. I'm afraid that my heart is too big, and that I'm not emotionally strong enough to volunteer it. 
  
I understand the importance of volunteerism, I really, truly do ... I know that we're called to serve ... I'm just so scared that I would be overcome with emotion and cry the entire time due to the harsh reality of other's misfortune. I mean, sometimes when I'm simply walking the streets of Denver tears start creeping into my eyes and the feelings overwhelm me. 
  
I want to help, I want to make a positive impact in the community and in someone else's life ... I just don't know how or where to start. Or if I'm even physically or emotionally able to.

Does this make me a terrible person? Because it makes me feel like one.

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While researching the statistics of homelessness here in Denver, I happened to find Thomas Hawk's $2 Portraits Project. Mr. Hawk is an established photographer in San Francisco - another city with an overwhelming number of homeless individuals - and his project is simple: For every person who asks him for money, he offers them $2 for their portrait and a few minutes of their time.

Thomas didn't create the project to exploit the homeless - rather, he started it to connect with and interact with them on a human level. He created a group Flickr account and photographers from all over the world participate. Their work is so humbling and beautiful ... and I hope that your day/perspective/life has been changed as much as mine has by viewing these photos and reading each persons story:


"John has been a homeless heroin addict for 19 years and has been clean for 19 months. I asked him how hard it was coming off it and he told me it was the second hardest thing he has ever done. I asked him what was the hardest and he said coming off the drink as every time he did he started heroin again. 

He was reading a novel and asking folk for change when they went by. I gave him a fiver and asked what he would do with it and he said it would go towards his £30 per night bed and breakfast. He goes to a B&B every night so that he doesn't have to sleep in homeless shelters as they are full of addicts and they would just end getting him back on the drug.

I asked if I could take his photo and he said fire away. Nice guy dealt a bad hand."


"Steve is 45 years old from San Jose. He lost his right leg in a work accident a few years back. Since then, he has not been able to find a job and has been living in a homeless shelter and sometimes outdoors. He is very soft spoken with a positive outlook about life."

John in Oakland, CA  |  Photo Credit: Greg Jordan

"Jon was born in Marin County. He was interested in theater in high school, so he went on to take theater and design courses in college. His college major was journalism, and he also studied photography. I knew he was familiar with photography because of the questions he asked about my camera and lens.

A few years after college, Jon scored what he characterized as a "very rewarding job" with the San Francisco Ballet. He was a set designer for years. He said working on the Nutcracker ballet set was the best, and he still loves remembering his years there.

But Jon's battle with manic depression and bipolar disorder was too much. Along with important parts of his mind, Jon lost his job, his bank account, many of his friends, and his coveted carpenter tools."

xo,
Kym

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57 comments

  1. Great post, so moving. I think most people can understand your position. My parents ran a homeless shelter for many years while I was growing up-so I spent a lot of time around homeless people. Now as an adult I look at that population with so much sympathy. But when I am alone, and approached for money I do get worried about safety- while I know overall homeless people aren't dangerous or have bad intentions that can't be said across the board. It's a tough call when in that situation, especially as a woman. If people are asking for money and we are near a coffee house or place to get food I usually offter to buy them food or a cup of coffee- this way we get in a more public setting, and I know where my money is really going.
    I hope you cometo some conclusion about volunteering- it can be really heartbreaking at times, but I think it's more rewarding than it is sad.

    Danielle @ Allusional

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    1. Your comment is beautiful, Danielle, thank you especially for the last line. A few days ago I purchased a sandwich at the grocery store to hand to the man sitting outside ... maybe it's those small little things that I can focus on for now. I know that the reward will be greater in the end, now hopefully I can find the strength to move forward with doing a little bit more. <3

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  2. Kym, you have no idea... NO IDEA... how much this post speaks to me, because I am the same way as you. I have volunteer in the past and would love to do it again. I just know that it will an enormous emotional task for me, because I feel others' pain sometimes like it was my own. I do occasionally give money to homeless people, especially when they approach me nicely.... or I have paid their bill at the grocery store when they were in line behind me... or gave my Starbucks coffee to someone outside the coffeeshop. Little things that are easy for me to do.

    This $2 portrait project is awesome. Thank you so much for sharing this.

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    1. We are one in the same, my friend. I, too, take on the pain and hurt and anxiety of others and it's really difficult for me to shake off sometimes. Last week I purchased a sandwich for the man sitting outside .. I think it's those small things that I can emotionally handle at the moment, though I thought about him for hours after. Thanks so much for your comment and for having such a good heart <3

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  3. This is yet again such a great post. Every time I pass a homeless person I always offer them something. If I have food or a lunch packed, I'll offer them that. Or if I have cash, I'll give them that too. I usually get sneered at and poked fun at for doing this because I'm always told "Yeah they're just gonna go buy liquor with that" or "You're just condoning their drug addiction". But what if I'm not? What if that $10-20 I offer gives them a bed to sleep in that night or a sandwich for lunch? I never will know what they do with the money I give them, but I know I'm giving it out of the goodness of my heart and I can only hope they will use it for the goodness of themselves as well.

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    1. This comment was so beautiful, Nikki. The world needs more beautiful souls like you.

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  4. what an amazing project.
    i will tell you- please don't feel bad about yourself. as a woman, we unfortunately can never be too cautious. so we have to be careful. that's just the facts of life. i think what you are doing here speaks to your true character. this is wonderful.

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    1. You're right ... this city also has me on edge because I'm not 100% comfortable in it. and I watch way too many crime shows. I hate to think the worst of people, but it is a very sad reality that we live in right now. Sigh.

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  5. You'll never know the answers to those questions unless you try. Scary, yes... but you can do it. They need you, the world needs more people with soft hearts like yours! xo

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    1. Thank you sweet friend, your comment made me smile. I know that the reward will be much greater than my fear ... I just need to do it.

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  6. that last one broke my heart! homeless people make me so sad. i don't know what to do or how to help them.

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    1. I started small last week by purchasing a sandwich for a man who was sitting outside begging for money. I don't 100% feel comfortable giving cash because they could use it for drugs or alcohol, but at least I knew he would be able to fill his belly a little bit.

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  7. I remember volunteering and just seeing the babies and the kids and my eyes burning. It was really hard, but so important.
    I've always had a soft spot for the homeless. My dad was an alcoholic and drug user, and to be honest if it wasn't for my mom allowing him to live with us in our basement, he would have been on the streets. He was in and out of jail most of the time though. Then he passed away from lung cancer, I can't help but see him in the homeless though.

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    1. I hope you know how much I admire you for sharing this <3

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  8. This is a beautiful post Kym. I hope you don't feel badly over your encounter. As a woman, it's so important to be safe and you were caught off-guard. I think you should give volunteering a chance, you've got a big heart and you'll never know what happens until you try!
    Thank you for sharing all of this and the $2 Portrait Project. it's so moving!

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    1. I know - you're right. I know that the reward will be so much greater than my fear. I am glad that you enjoyed the $2 Portrait Project as much as I do. xoxo

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  9. This is a wonderful post. I have to drive through downtown every morning on the way to work and I see the line of people outside of Christ Table waiting for breakfast and other times homeless standing on the corners of the off ramps. I tend to just drive by but I got to thinking last week when I saw another blog post about homeless people and making care packages. I thought I could make a couple little packages with gloves, toboggans, and maybe a couple little snacks and just have them in my car to hand out to the ones I see on a more daily basis. I am going to have to check out this $2 project too thanks for sharing!

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    1. I absolutely LOVE that idea ... even hitting up the dollar section at Target and grabbing toothpaste, a toothbrush, deodorant, etc ... I think you're onto something, Brittany.

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  10. You have such a sweet, sweet soul. I think you did the right thing when it comes to that man. You can never be too safe! And I'm sure you'll make up for it with the help that you'll provide others in a safe environment. We don't want anything happening to you :)

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    1. Thanks babygirl <3 It's just so overwhelming in this city. We live right downtown ... and I guess I've been pretty sheltered in a small town growing up, I've never experienced anything like this before. It's very sad :(

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  11. It really says a lot about your kind heart that you're dwelling over that interaction even now. And that is a really, really amazing project. I stand by the fact that every single person in this world has a story to tell, and they deserve to have someone to tell it to. I think it's why I love blogging so much!

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    1. Your comment is so beautiful, Caroline - thank you for sharing your words <3

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  12. Worrying about having too big of a heart sounds like the best problem to have. Good for you for wanting to do better! And, remember that you could always sort donations or help with more office tasks if you want to get involved but aren't ready for the emotional toll of working with people every day. Any time or skill you can offer is a great help!

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    1. I did look (briefly!) into office work, however each of the places that I found wanted a six month commitment, and I simply don't know how long we will be here for. We'll likely be leaving in three. Have you ever seen the website VolunteerMatch.org?

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  13. Girl. You're not a terrible person at all! The fact that you're even feeling bad about it proves that you're a good person! It's always tough when you meet someone like that because you want to help, but sometimes theres really nothing you can do. You're awesome, seriously. You inspire me!

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    1. Thank you for your kind words sweet girl <3 I guess I lived a rather small town sheltered life, and I've never really seen so many homeless people in a city that I call home before. It's definitely an adjustment, but it's been an inspiring home, to want to help more.

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  14. This post had me in tears. I wish there was a way to help all of the people out there who don't have homes. :(

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    1. I do, too :( We can't help everyone, but we can help someone. <3

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  15. Reading that last half gave me the chills! You are not a terrible person, not at all. I know exactly what you mean - I really want to volunteer but I have a hard time not being over emotional and crying. The few times I haven't been able to help out someone who needed it, I thought about it for the rest of the week and felt awful. I absolutely love what Thomas Hawk is doing!

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    1. I guess it's really not terrible to have too big of a heart, right? xo

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  16. I don't think it makes you a bad person at all that you are scared to help! I wrote a confessions post a week or so ago and I basically said I know all of blogland is supporting The Young and The Brave foundation but I can't even look at the website. As a mother all the stories about sick children would drive me insane with worry about what could possibly happen to my own child.

    My mother's heart just can't take it, I'm not emotionally strong enough and I feel like a bad person. It's good to know I am not the only one that's not sure they are strong enough to handle the pain of someone else's unhappy reality.

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    1. The website was very tough for me to look at as well. I don't have children, but I always put myself in the shoes of the parents and families when I see or read things such as what that foundation is working for, and it breaks my heart. You're not alone in your feelings ... and it's definitely not a bad thing to have too big of a heart! xo

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  17. I know exactly how that feels. There are a few moments that I play in my head and wonder what I could've done differently to make a better impact. We found a website for Jersey that lists all kinds of Volunteer options - some that are more behind the scenes, but still super helpful. I'm sure Colorado has something similar. But just know, you're not alone. :)

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    1. Thank you friend <3 I was looking at VolunteerMatch.org, and I was also looking around the holidays to help at the local shelters and foodbanks, but they were all booked up with volunteers! I was discouraged that I couldn't be involved, but also thankful that people had already signed up. Plus, I'm sure that they are in need of more volunteers when it's NOT a holiday. Now I just need to find the strength to walk in the door.

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  18. Such a beautifully written post those photos and bios were really enlightening. Understand completely where you are coming from. I tend to be highly sensitive,type that cries reading a Hallmark card and seeing an image of any human or animal suffering can leave me feeling upset for awhile so it makes it very hard to volunteer because the weight of the emotions can be overwhelming. Wish there was a way that our world could see to it that everyone had food to eat, a safe place to call home and essential clothing for all seasons. It just makes no sense why in our great world there are people still suffering.

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    1. And your comment is equally as beautiful my dear. Thank you for sharing your kind heart <3

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  19. This post is beautiful - and those photos are amazing. People forget to remember sometimes that the homeless are people to, they all have a story, they all came from somewhere, and many are trying very hard to do their best <3 I actually heard somewhere once that everyone is only 2 steps away from being homeless. So awesome that you feel called to serve and thank you for sharing Hawk's pictures! xx

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    1. That's especially why I love Thomas's project ... I can only imagine how touched all of those individuals are that someone doesn't turn a blind eye, and actually care enough to talk to them.

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  20. I can totally relate. I always wonder what happened to them. How did things get so bad to where NOBODY in their life would help out? i guarantee that every time i give money to a homeless person, i drive away crying. (they usually stand on the corners of the freeway exits where the stoplights to turn are)
    all i can say is start small and know that God sees the desire in your heart. good luck ♥

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    1. I think sometimes it's a personal decision for them. I have a family member who chooses to be homeless even though we've bent over backwards to help her and get her the assistance she needs. Thanks for your kind words Kai ... I'm going to grab a packaged sandwich each time I go to the grocery store, and I'm considering putting together small bags of essentials for the people who stand at our stoplights as well. xoxo

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  21. Please don't feel bad. I have been in the situation of being homeless (due to stupid, stupid decisions I made in my 20s) and I have been a volunteer. It is hard sometimes because you do get emotionally attached. I think it is amazing that you found and posted the link for the photos...I am going to check them out further now.

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    1. I hope that you enjoy enjoy his project as much as I do <3<3 And I am glad that you found your feet :) xo

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  22. You have such a big heart. I think getting involved is worth the risk of emotions coming up, you know? Volunteering is something I want to do with my oldest son, because it's something I enjoyed growing up. I think it's good to realize these people are people. We are no better than them. Sometimes they just need to feel that someone out there cares. You can impact someone's life. I think that's the best part about volunteering your time.

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    1. I definitely agree with you Bri. I volunteered often in high school (we had to have 20 hours each semester) ... but as I've grown and my heart has grown for others around me, I am just sooo affected and take on others pain and grief, and it's hard for me to shake. But I totally agree with everything you wrote ... I hope I can find the strength to help any way I can, and I love that you want to work with your son to serve others. That's beautiful <3

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  23. I really enjoyed reading about this project! Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Whitney <3

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  24. Amazing photos. Living in rural VT, I don't see the homelessness on the street, but as a school counselor in a rural high school, I know it's there, it's just different.

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    1. Yes ... I'm from a small town in Massachusetts so I guess I've just never been around or really had to face the reality of homelessness before.

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  25. I love the idea of the portrait project. Its very easy to not see these people, and this project makes them visible and real. I feel the same way you do sometimes, that maybe my heart is too big. I'll get too involved, too attached. I try and research all the charities my company is involved with and donate to them when I can, and I try to volunteer with causes close to me like the Lupus Foundation. I think we have to realize we can't do everything to help everyone, but as cliché as it sounds every little bit helps.

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    1. Exactly THIS, Whitney! I am guilty and saddened at the amount of times that I've turned a blind eye to these people. Sharing Thomas's project gives me hope that hopefully people's perspectives will be changed the next time they encounter someone who is living on the streets or doesn't know where they will get their next meal. And your last sentence? We can't help everyone, but we can help someone <3<3

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  26. Wow. I love what this man is doing with his photography - what an amazing way to spread people's stories! I just wish there was a way to help every single person out. I often feel like I want to hug everyone in the world but my arms just aren't big enough.

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  27. You are so NOT a terrible person! I would have been in a quandary too! Love the photography, what a fantastic way of raising awareness!

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  28. Volunteering is not easy. I have definitely been deeply touched and humbled by some of the experiences I've had through it. But you know what? I'd rather break my own heart a little and be able to help someone else in the process. Trust me, it's worth it. :)

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  29. It's hard when you have a tender heart. I completely understand. My heart breaks everytime I see someone that has lost their way. Maybe look into organizations that uplift others. (My team triumph, women's shelters, church groups that fundraise, big brothers/big sisters) good luck hon. I think you will do great things and maybe it will be a little painful because you're human but sometimes you have to go through a little pain to truly appreciate the blessings.

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  30. What a beautiful post! This is something that always weighs down on me as well. Unfortunately, it's not always a safe idea for us (being young women especially) to reach out and become vulnerable in situations where we are approached by those in need. Some (but not all) people in difficult situations will take advantage of the kindness of those who are willing to take a chance on them. Those few create a bad name for those who are truly down on their luck and looking for a helping hand. It's a catch 22 of sorts, but there are tons of safe volunteer opportunities through charities and organizations that provide food, shelter, and clothing to those in need. It's so easy to forget how fortunate we truly are, and every now and then we owe it to our community to give something back.

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  31. Okay, I had to wait until I stopped crying to reply ... no, you're not a terrible person at all. The fact you felt pulled to do something and felt empathy for him shows that you have a kind and giving heart and that when the right opportunity presents itself, you'll be ready. I'd love to be a CASA advocate, but given my full time employment, its a conflict of interest so long as I am doing what I do. Someday I'll be in a position to help children who need a voice ... in the meantime, I've volunteered my time for a couple of their races locally and shot a campaign for them. Hopefully I'll finally get to run the Superhero 5k this spring as well.

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  32. Having compassion and empathy does not make you anything but an awesome potential volunteer. I worked with volunteers for ten years and the best ones were people who cared and were passionate about their cause(s).

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I love reading your thoughts and opinions and I do try to answer all comments and questions. If you would like to contact me directly feel free to email me at kymberly_fox@yahoo.com, on Instagram @kymberly_fox, or at Facebook.com/KymFox86 :)

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