I'll be honest, it was so cold I thought my face was going to fall off. A few times even I started to scream "I can't feel my nose" and was concerned the numbness would spread to the rest of my body. There is a reason I moved from Upstate New York to sunny Southern California 23 years ago and that reason is I HATE COLD! But I will brave any conditions, even an Alaskan winter, if it will in some way help our homeless friends who are out in the cold.
Anne Marie Batten, a street outreach nurse I met this summer in Toronto, joked with me that she was buying me snowshoes to come do outreach with her during a Canadian winter. Of course, I told her "HELL NO!", yet inside I had a feeling I'd be joining her in the cold at some point. I just had no way of even dreaming it would be to launch a We Are Visible Mural and Project Winter Survival, but thanks to the serendipity of social media, and the huge heart of Jeff Pulver, I spent last Saturday in Toronto, Canada.
Even my ride along with Anchorage Police didn't prepare me for seeing homeless friends sleeping on sidewalk heat grates in below zero weather. CBC followed me while we went out and handed out sleeping bags, and I am glad that their story showed the two men sleeping on top of steam vents. I just wished they made the story about Project Winter Survival instead of me, and that they understood Invisible People is about tangible solutions to end homelessness and not some photography project. I was glad to see Global News feature Project Winter Survival because we need to get more people involved to support such an amazing initiative.
Lots or people prepare and distribute "survival kits" for all kinds of social crisis worldwide. I was even part of a project that gave out kits in Southern Sudan back in 2005. If the items being handed out are items that actually will help people, and the survival kits are given out with the right intentions, they can be a huge benefit for hurting people. I have to tell you Project Winter Survival was the best survival kits I had ever seen. Over 30 items that included a sleeping bag, hats, gloves, hygiene products, snacks, water, and more. And the people understand homeless people need to carry everything they own so even the sleeping bags have to have a carry strap. But maybe the coolest is that Project Winter Survival then gives the kits to homeless service providers, and that is HUGE!
They could easily hand the kits out themselves, but to have the most impact, they give the kits to organizations building relationships with people on the streets to get them off the streets. For those that have been following me know I am all about working as a team to end homelessness. Handing out 'stuff' to homeless friends provides a "feel good" moment, but to do more than maintaining homelessness, if you coordinate with your local homeless services providers, and work with them to distribute with the intent of getting people into housing, you will be having real, tangle impact. I am not saying don't hand out stuff, what I am saying is work with the local people in your community to provide what people on the streets need to get out of homelessness. Project Winter Survival really impressed me and I was so very glad to be part of this year's launch.
I LOVE 140 Conference community. Out of any event I have to say that 140 Conference has literally changed my life. Much of that is because Jeff Pulver allows for the community to grown naturally, and with Jeff's loving guidance, it's a community constantly being introduced to new eclectic characters. This year in NYC I met Scott Mills, who is one crazy Toronto Police officer. Scott finds spare time to work with troubled youth, and works to help gang kids with graffiti talent find legal walls to paint. I think that is AWESOME! Well, Scott brought Jessey and Kendre to New York City where they dedicated a wall to Invisible People. I was honored and grateful. After that a wall on the "home court" had to be next.
Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would have something to do with such a cool event. The We Are Visible Mural was unveiled by a group of Toronto Police officers. How cool is that?!! It really was gorgeous seeing police, youth, art, homeless services, businesses, nonprofits, and social media all come together to launch a project that will help 3,000 homeless people in Toronto. I was blown away, and I hope this movement of art and philanthropy continues.
Much thanks and love to everyone who helped make this happen! Jeff Pulver you are my HERO!