By Jocelyn Moore
Northwest Asian Weekly
Following its initial success last year, Sleepless in Seattle is planning to deliver more sleeping bags and care packages this year to the homeless community in the hopes to warm up the city’s street corners.
Led by its 24-year-old founder Eddie Wang, the team aims to raise $75,000 between now and Nov. 6 through an Indiegogo crowdsourcing campaign as well as corporate donations to support its “Big Give” event on Nov. 21.
“One common misconception about homeless people is that they are unapproachable,” Wang said. “In personally initiating conversation with hundreds of homeless people over the years, I’ve found the vast majority of these encounters to be positive experiences.”
Inspired by his experience working with the homeless community as a social work major at the University of Washington, Wang started Sleepless in Seattle in 2014 shortly after he graduated from the university.
The mission of the organization is to bring together a team of volunteers to care for the immediate needs of homeless persons in King County through the use of sleeping bags, while raising the awareness on the challenges faced by the homeless communities.
“I realized that my job is not to judge but to simply show compassion,” said Wang who makes an effort to talk and share meals with the homeless people in his free time. “He (a young homeless man) mentioned that he’d gone through 20 foster home placements by the time he was 18. If I had gone through 20 foster home placements, there would be no chance I could’ve integrated myself as a ‘functioning member’ of society—let alone graduate college and reach any of the other traditional milestones we associate with success.”
Ben Nilsen initially started working with Wang last year on some video project s for the launch of the campaign.
He said his involvement as a videographer has completely changed his thinking on the homeless community and has developed a genuine desire to help them.
“This was a new thing for me, and so at first it was awkward and uncomfortable, to be honest,” said the 20-year-old Nilsen. “Some of them didn’t want to be filmed. We just asked for permission and most were fine with it when we told them what we were doing.”
Nilsen said he met Wang through a mutual friend from church and did not know a lot about Wang until the day they went to shoot the Sleepless in Seattle video.
“It’s been an eye-opening and humbling experience to work with him,” Nilsen said. “I have never seen someone as boldly walk up to anyone, much less homeless people, and talk to them. He didn’t ignore them, and he didn’t give them money. He sat down with them, listened to their life stories, and even held their hands while praying for them.”
Wang said his beliefs as a Christian and his cultural background have helped shape his views toward the homeless communities.
“The common denominator I’ve found among homeless people in Seattle I’ve talked to is broken relationships in their lives,” said Wang whose parents are Taiwanese. “In Asian cultures, it seems as if the family unit is more committed to these ties, even if it’s just for reasons of ‘saving face’.”
Such insight has led Wang to develop Sleepless in Seattle around a paradigm of friendship.
“People need sleeping bags, but they also just need a friend who will acknowledge and bring out the best in them,” Wang said. “Call me a romantic, but I can’t help but wonder what would happen if we simply acknowledged and treated each other as brothers, sisters, neighbors, and friends.”
Sleepless in Seattle is partnering with ImageSource, Exxel, PointB, and Louder Rewards on obtaining a large amount shopping bags and care packages at heavily discounted prices for the Big Give event in November.
“Helping others in need is important to me and all of my co-workers,” said Daniel Todd, the CEO of Influence Mobile which created the app Louder Rewards. “I have found Eddie to be a Godly man of conviction and purpose.
I like to support people like Eddie as they work to improve the world.”
Being a part of the IT industry, Todd believes the tech community has an opportunity to make a huge impact on the issue of homelessness.
“We simply need to make helping as easy and straightforward as making ‘ice bucket challenge’ videos,” he said.
“With hundreds of thousands of affluent workers we would have enough money and volunteers to accomplish everything needed.”
Wang, Nilsen, and Todd all encourage the public to engage with the homeless community with an open mind.
“One common refrain I’ve heard is that homeless people can feel invisible on the street when no one will even acknowledge them,” Wang said. “Even a simple nod of the head or ‘have a good day’ can mean a lot to someone who feels like a wallflower on the streets.” (end)
For more information about Sleepless in Seattle, visit indiegogo.com/projects/sleepless-in-seattle-seattle-gives-back#/
Jocelyn Moore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.