It might seem counterintuitive for a homeless person to sell all his remaining belongings and drive around the country passing out coffee and warm socks to other homeless people, but Greg Staffa doesn't mind defying expectations.
"I know not everyone will get it," Staffa told HuffPost. "I think there are expectations about what homeless people are supposed to be doing."
Staffa, 35, says he became homeless on December 18, 2009, after he was injured on the job at Northwest Airlines. He lost that job, and then lost his house in Farmington, Minn., to foreclosure. (Last December HuffPost chronicled his effort to save his home, which he said he was losing because he was fat.)
For a while, Staffa says, he lived out of his Ford Focus and used local free Wi-Fi to apply to jobs and hang onto his unemployment benefits. But he quickly tired of feeling like he had no purpose.
Hoping to prove that homeless people can be as productive and inspiring as anyone else, Staffa sold all of his belongings on eBay and embarked on a 9,000 mile road trip across 48 states, raising awareness for homelessness.
"I basically wanted to immerse myself in the homeless community and try to give something back," he told HuffPost. "I'm not looking to change the world, I'm not looking to make a huge difference or get a bunch of praise -- I just want to show that homeless people aren't all alcoholics or criminals. They can do things. They can inspire. They are real people with real feelings."
Staffa, who is currently driving through Ohio, said his routine is to pull into a state capital and check in with a shelter or homelessness advocate group to find out how that particular state deals with its homeless population. Then he finds out where homeless people are congregating, sits down to mingle with them, and offers them cups of coffee and warm clothes.
"I've given out over 400 pairs of warm socks, 100 cups of coffee, over 100 T-shirts and other clothing, a sleeping bag and a couple jackets," he said. "It doesn't take much to make a difference to someone."
The most rewarding experience he's had on his trip so far, Staffa says, was helping a fellow homeless man named Joseph Wilson in Ontario, Oregon, stay warm on a freezing cold night. Since Staffa had a car to sleep in, he gave some socks, a cup of cocoa, and his only sleeping bag to Wilson, who lived on the street.
"The sleeping bag he gave me truly saved my life, because it snowed the next day and never got over 27 degrees for two weeks after his gift," Wilson, 49, told HuffPost in an email. "I at first felt a sense of guilt over his gift because it was the only one he had, and he just shrugged it off as no big deal. He said, 'I can always start the car.'"
Wilson said that he will continue to keep in touch with Staffa, who made a lasting impression by stopping to hang out with him for the day.
"He didn't really know what that meant to someone like me," Wilson said. "The socks where just an icebreaker -- the friendship was his real gift."
With only four states and a week and a half left to go on his road trip, Staffa said he hopes his journey has helped people see homeless in a new way in 2010.
"With this economy, we're seeing a whole different type of homelessness, but we're not seeing a shift in mindset," he said. "Three years ago, I was making $20.20 an hour, and one working year later, I lost it all. It doesn't take much -- you don't have to be an alcoholic or a drug user to suddenly find yourself homeless. It can be as simple as a job loss or a work injury."
Although he knows a lot of people will be skeptical of his lifestyle, Staffa says he is proud of the choices he is making.
"People say, shouldn't I be looking for work? And I am, a lot. For hours every day on the computer. But I'm also making a difference in people's lives," he said. "I know this is a big risk I'm taking. If my car breaks down, I'm screwed. But at the end of the day, you have to ask yourself: What are you willing to give up and sacrifice to do something you believe in?"
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