The corner of 6th & Columbia
The Jackson-Mississippi Homeless Coalition estimates the risk for a black person in the US to be homeless is 7x greater than a white non-hispanic (source, pg. 39).
Recently I was at an intersection in downtown Seattle. I watched a black man, Edward, holding a sign seeking help. It wasn’t raining for once, so I took a break and watched. Perhaps 20 minutes went by. Not a single response.. A 0% conversion rate.
Eventually, I got up and made my way to him. He was physically imposing, gruffly covered in a ballcap, coats, and tattoos. To an extent, I feared just approaching him. I inquired, “…do you mind if I ask why you think no one’s helping you here? Do you find it to be a lack of cash people have on them, or– “
He interrupted me, “It’s my appearance, my clothing, my skin color. It’s all wrong. No one believes me.”
“You’re saying you come off too physically imposing for people to trust?”
“What is it that you’re raising money for?”
Ed told me that inside, he was a diabetic. He couldn’t afford his medication. It was starting to degrade his feet (I would not suggest googling about this), and he wasn’t able to get consistent amounts of meds from local shelters.
The photo of Ed above captures a mix between intimidation and sadness that’s indiscernible. I look for a moment, I see one emotion — the next moment, it is the other.
By his rough exteriors, people gave him a glance, made their guess and kept driving. When I learned the reason he was there, I wanted so badly for people to see what was inside instead. I believe that if, for one moment, those people could have seen his true need — and had a clear, simple way to respond — most would’ve acted in compassion.
This experience is why we’re making GiveSafe — to cut through our perceptions, our prejudices, and get to the root of what’s missing (https://vimeo.com/147987811).
We’ll have a development update on GiveSafe soon. Thanks for taking time to read.