For the next seven days, Raleigh graphic designer and NC State alum Will Langley is taking to the streets to draw attention to the growing number of unsheltered homeless people.
With just a $20 bill and a single tank of gas, Langley will go “Homeless for the Holidays,” living in his car while lending a hand to local organizations that aid the homeless.
“My plan is to cook 19-cent Oodles of Noodles on my backpacking stove every night,” Langley said. “I won’t be panhandling, for the same reason I wouldn’t want to take a bed at a shelter or a hot meal from someone who needs it.”
Langley, a civil and environmental engineering graduate, traces this week’s adventure back to meeting a homeless man outside a downtown tavern.
“This guy—he’s come up to me before—hit me up for a couple of dollars. He’s a really nice guy and didn’t smack of addiction. He just seemed like he was sort of a lifetime homeless guy.
“Something struck me about him, so I asked him his name and we sat down, had a beer and talked for about 20 minutes. Afterwards, I gave him what I had, but it just really got me thinking how I could help.”
Stories from the Street
Langley pitched the idea for the project to his bosses at Capstrat, a Raleigh-based communications agency.
Site visitors can get to know some of Raleigh’s homeless people through video profiles. Langley’s advance research has already helped shatter stereotypes about the homeless population.
“While it’s very true that depression, PTSD and various forms of addiction are big contributing factors and are rampant throughout the homeless community, it’s an unfair whitewash to think that everyone out there is just a lazy bum,” he said. “I want to find out more about who these people really are.”
Tweets from the Homeless
Langley has struck up a number of conversations with homeless people across the nation—on Twitter, of all places. They log on at public libraries.
“Loneliness, from what I’m hearing, is the worst thing,” he said. “Having all that time to yourself with no one to talk to, they are finding each other online, and pursuing different avenues for help through Twitter and social media at large. I had absolutely no idea that was going on.”
But there’s nothing like genuine, one-on-one interaction to satisfy a person’s longing for community, Langley said. That’s the message he hopes people will take away.
Langley is not soliciting for any donations—although there are links to several organizations on his Web site—but simply for people to get to know those less fortunate around them.
“It just comes down to interacting with those who have been left out in the cold,” Langley said. “Whether or not you decide to give money, food, cigarettes or whatever else someone is asking for, before you leave, just shake their hand and ask them what their name is, even if you tell them no on everything else.
“This project, even as it’s just beginning, has already changed me,” he said. “I’ll never again be able to spend a Thanksgiving or Christmas not helping people.”