Mark was my uncle. He was the most family-oriented member of my extended family. He remembered every birthday. The year before he died at the age of 50, he gave me an eagle bandana for my birthday. A very thoughtful gift for someone who loves his country and whose last name means “eagle” in German.
Mark also suffered from schizophrenia, and lived on-and-off the streets for 30 years.
For the first time since he died 10 years ago, I visited his gravesite in Santa Cruz. Though it means little to him now, my dad and Uncle David refused to have his memory forgotten, and chipped in for a proper plot of ground to call his own. As poignant as this was for me, I wondered if there was anything I could do for the people still living on the streets, whose lives we forget or ignore each day.
Like Mark, there are many people on the streets who suffer from mental illness, or drug addictions, or severe disabilities. Many people who have problems, just like the rest of us. Some are mental illnesses; some are down on their luck, just divorced, missed payment, bad accident, mounting health care costs, debts, mistakes, chances that just didn’t work out. Many people who have families and people who miss them and love them, just like the rest of us.
I decided to do something about it.
I started Miracle Messages to increase awareness of what it’s like to live on the streets, from the firsthand perspective of those who do; to make an immediate and tangible impact in the lives of our homeless neighbors; to use a bit of technology to help the homeless be seen as invaluable, complete, and human.
Thank you Uncle Mark, for inspiring the idea that lead to Miracle Messages. I always loved ‘em burritos, too. I miss you.
A few of our first stories...
- Miracle Messages started with a walk down Market Street in San Francisco at Christmastime. We asked every homeless person we met if they would like to record a holiday message to a loved one. That's how we met Jeffrey. He recorded a video to his sister, which we posted on Facebook. Within 1 hour, Jeffrey's sister was tagged in the post. Within weeks, $5000 was raised by his hometown. Within a month, Jeffrey was on the phone with his sister for the first time in 20 years. Read more of this story and how it influenced our work in the SF Chronicle.
- We partnered with St. Anthony's Foundation (SF) to offer this work to their service recipients. That's how we met Johnny, who hadn't seen his siblings in over 30 years and asked to record a video message to them. Three weeks after posting his video, Johnny's 4 siblings and their families flew out to reunite with their brother, who we later discovered had been a missing person for 22 years.
- The precursor to Miracle Messages was a side project called Homeless GoPro, which outfitted homeless volunteers with wearable cameras to see the world through their eyes. We pivoted away from Homeless GoPro because we sought to make a more immediate, tangible impact in the lives of our homeless volunteers that was not predicated on extensive media coverage. We repeatedly heard homeless volunteers say some variation of: "I never realized I was homeless when I lost my home, but only when I lost my family and friends to support me." We were also threatened by GoPro after they donated our initial camera, but that is another story.