This week, several Skill Capture Media members decided to begin our Human Not Homeless (HNH) campaign. The goal of this campaign is to spend time in different areas of Tampa with a wagon full of food and water, and a camera in hand to capture headshots of those willing to let us take their photos, and an open mind. We wanted to interact with people who found themselves living on the street, sit and talk to them and hear their stories, give them food and water, and show them that we genuinely cared about them. We want to capture those stories, those faces, those smiles and tears, and share it with the world so as to possibly bring more help to these individuals. We want others to feel comfortable to, instead of giving these folks a wide berth and ignoring them, possibly stop and talk to them, invite them for a drink, buy them a snack or a cold beverage on a hot day, etc.
On Friday October 16, we all met in Ybor, and set out. We had no idea where to go, how to even begin a conversation, if these folks wanted to even talk to us or receive food from us, or anything. But we wanted to try, and at least learn one way or another. When we started out, we first ran into an individual on the corner by 7/11 who was yelling to me about my beard (I have a rather hefty beard). He also had a beard, albeit less well groomed, and was expressing his excitement over the length and quality of mine. We chatted briefly, making jokes about how the heat was drying them out, and we continued on our way. We weren’t sure if he was part of our target population, but we were happy to converse nonetheless.
After that, we honestly didn’t come across anyone for the better part of 30 minutes. We walked up the street, and just enjoyed the Tampa weather. We decided to check the shadowed alleys to see if we could provide some food and water while folks stayed cool. This proved to be a great move.
We first encountered a very friendly individual named Anthony who we asked from afar if he wanted water. He rolled over in his wheelchair, and gladly accepted a drink. We talked for a good while, and he told us a bit about how he had been living on the streets in Ybor for the past 7 years, and in the last year, he had brain surgery and lost both legs. He told us where we could find others to give food and water, and promised to meet up with us later when it was cooler to share more of his story and take pictures.
We continued on to a tight and rather pungent alley, where we came across my bearded brethren again. He introduced himself as the up-and-coming rapper Cracker White. He had quite the setup! He claimed a porch to an abandoned store, where he piled cardboard up to make a comfortable seat. He accepted both food and water, and told us all about his journey. He said he recently hitchhiked from Tampa to LA and back, where he met several celebrities. He said he was panhandling in LA where he met a beautiful woman who gave him money and then spoke with him for 20 minutes or so. She was addressed by one of her entourage by the moniker “AK,” which he later found out was short for Alicia Keys. We plan to meet back up with him in the future to potentially record some of his fantastic rap skills.
From here, we had a really good feeling about both what we were doing and the difference we were making just giving these folks a platform and someone to talk to, plus some much-needed sustenance. We spoke with a couple of folks as we meandered through the streets of Ybor, and just enjoyed the weather. We came across an individual who was in an alley looking for food in the garbage cans, and we offered him food and drink. He very graciously took both, and expressed his appreciation for what we were doing. He allowed us to take his picture, but said he was not ready yet to tell his story. We told him we would be around every week, and would gladly listen any time he wanted to share with us.
Right after we talked to him, we went around the corner and headed back down the main stretch on 7th Ave. We heard someone shouting behind us, talking to an individual sitting on a stoop across the street, and then shouting seemingly towards us. We slowed down and he came up and asked us, “hey are you the people handing out burgers and water?” We said of course, and offered him one. He took one for himself and one for the shy individual across the street. We realized that the word was getting out that we had food, and we also realized just how much they needed the help. This was the first time it really hit us that while the conversation was welcome, the food and water was so desperately needed that those in need were trying to find us and track us down.
We now knew that the word had gotten out, and so we decided to sit down and rest our feet, and give folks a chance to find us. We had an individual come and ask us if we were the people handing out food and water, and asked if he could have extra because he was more-hungry than he had been in a long time. We gave him two cheeseburgers and a water, and invited him to sit down. He sat down with us, talked to us about those in need, the impact we were having on them, and discussed how nice it was for people to even be willing to invite a “bum” to sit with them. He said he had been in the streets for a long time, and never had he shared a meal or drink with someone. He talked about poetry and music, and how he finds a lot of peace in the written word.
While we were talking to him, we had a very shy and quiet older gentleman shuffle up to us and ask if we had anything we’d be willing to share. We gave him a burger and a water, and he proceeded to sit down at a table near us and just listen to everyone. He was a very sweet man who had an arm full of snacks he was carrying around. We watched his snacks when he went into one of the convenience stores to use the bathroom and cool down.
After this, we decided to head back to the parking garage, as we were worn out from walking with all the gear in the heat. We were reflecting on the day, and honestly the reactions and the grateful expressions we received were extremely moving. We had no idea the impact, and agreed we needed to go back again soon. We happened to have a few more burgers, and so we found a group of folks set up behind a group of buildings. They graciously took the burgers, and darn near cleaned us out of waters.
We knew that the lack of understanding the general public had for the homeless was a systemic problem. We knew that food and water would likely be helpful. We knew that human interaction would possibly be welcome. We had absolutely no idea how incredibly appreciative people would be for not just the food but also the interaction. Cracker White and the individual who sat down and chatted at length with us were both so vocal about how much they appreciated us treating them like human beings, not something to avoid. We were all so emotional reflecting on the day that we agreed we had to continue this effort, and had ideas of how else to engage and continue to help.
Check out the gallery we are building as we meet and interact with more and more people here.