Even on a morning where I was already running late, I couldn’t help but notice that this particular morning was just beautiful. Sunlight that shone through the treetops and the slight breeze made the shadow art on the sidewalks and pavement dance, even as the cars and trucks whizzed by.
I was trying to chew and swallow half a slice of banana bread as quickly as possible before entering the office building a block and a half away when two, tattered black boots appeared out of nowhere among the dancing light on the sidewalk in front of me.
“Good morning–erm–ma’am–.” The owner of the boots’ request was cut short by an episode of nervous coughing and throat clearing. “Ack! Let me try this again. Good morning, ma’am. Sorry to bother you but could you spare any change?”
When I looked up I was surprised to see a boy my age or younger. He seemed pretty articulate aside from a little nervousness. I couldn’t help but think that if I were asking a stranger for money it would sound something like that. Aside from his tattered clothes, he could have been someone I went to college with. He could even have been my younger brother.
I told him I didn’t have any cash but offered him my half slice of banana bread, which he gladly accepted.
As I continued on my way I couldn’t help but wonder what the circumstances of his life were so that he had to beg for money. I admit, I don’t usually ponder this thought about each homeless person I pass but something about this encounter made me uncomfortable for the rest of the day. I realized that it was because for those few moments I saw past the worn boots and tattered clothes. Looking into his face I saw myself.
And boy, were those old boots and worn clothes uncomfortable.
I secretly hoped to bump into him again in the case that I would have the guts to ask that burning question: what’s your story?
Since 2008, Invisible people founder Mark Horvath has dedicated his life to asking that question to homeless people around the world. Through his vlog Invisible People, he gives a face and a voice to those marginalized by homeless by interviewing them and posting their stories, raw, unfiltered and real, to his website InvisiblePeople.tv.
“I once heard a story about a homeless man on Hollywood Boulevard who really thought he was invisible,” writes Horvath in the About section of the Invisible People website. “But one day a kid handed the man a Christian pamphlet. The homeless guy was shocked and amazed, ‘What! You can see me? How can you see me? I’m invisible!’
Camera in tow, Horvath has been making homeless people visible by approaching those he encounters to interview them, first asking for their “homeless story” and ending by asking the interviewees if they had three wishes what they would wish for. These recordings reveal a new side of homelessness that is rarely seen–a human side.
“The purpose of this vlog is to make the invisible visible,” he writes about Invisible People. “I hope these people and their stories connect with you and don’t let go. I hope their conversations with me will start a conversation in your circle of friends.”
These magnetic and compelling stories show us first-hand how sickness or mental illness, loss of loved ones, unemployment, eviction and many other factors have resulted in a life on the streets. Horvath, who was once homeless himself, only has to press “record” on his iPhone and the stories flow.
“The invisible guy didn’t intend to become homeless,” Horvath writes. “I didn’t plan on living on the street. Everyone on the streets has their own story, some made bad decisions, others were victims, but none of them deserve what they have been left with, and it is a reflection of our own society that we just leave them there.”
Ignoring the human behind homelessness comes ironically at the cost of repressing the human nature inside ourselves; the same one that gives us the urge to care about others, says Horvath.
“It’s not that people are bad, but if we make eye contact, or engage in conversation, then we have to admit they exist and that we might have a basic human need to care. But it’s so much easier to simply close our eyes and shield our hearts to their existence.”
While these homeless stories are shocking themselves filled with pain, brokenness and hopeless, what’s more striking is the level of determination these people have to triumph over their circumstances. These people have lost everything but have found communities on the streets, many have found God and spiritual healing and most have found the genuine kindness of good people.
During one interview in Seattle, Horvath asks a man with medical problems in wheelchair named Wolf about his life on the streets.
Horvath: How do you survive?
Wolf: With friends that I meet out here on the streets. I had one lady that went and paid for my pills which were 800 bucks…and another lady, she helps with my hospital bills. These are people I’ve never met before. There are good people here in Seattle, don’t worry about that!
Horvath: That’s no way to live.
Wolf: Yeah, that’s true. You gotta think positive. That’s the only way to do it. If you don’t think positive you ain’t gonna make it…
Horvath: If you had three wishes what would they be?
Wolf: I wish I didn’t have these problems then I’d go get a job. Then I wouldn’t be homeless anymore. The other two I couldn’t get. Let’s see, my wife died here. She had no medical help.
Horvath: Your wife died out here on the streets?
Wolf: Yes. She died of a blood clot to the heart and lungs. She sat in emergency room up in Harborview for 9 hours before they even looked at her. By the time they looked at her the blood clot done reached her heart and lungs. She died. That’s something you don’t forget about.
Horvath: I’m so sorry.
Wolf: It’s part of life. But you know, I gotta go on. I can’t quit. I got friends out here. That keeps me going.
“Please always remember,” says Horvath, “the homeless people you’ll ignore today were much like you not so long ago.”
To keep the project going and make a donation to Invisible People, visit the website.