Father And Son Team Encourages Empathy For Homeless
Their surprisingly personal touch is what makes the real difference.
Chase saw his first homeless person when he was four years old. He was shopping with his dad at a mall near his home in Salt Lake City and he didn't understand why the person didn't have a place to stay.
Granted, Chase was just a toddler at the time, but his dad, John Hansen, took it as a learning opportunity. When Hansen told his son that the person had likely run into hard times and was now homeless, Chase immediately wanted to help.
Hansen and Chase's mom had recently divorced, and he wanted to more with his son on the weekends than play video games. So, Hansen had the idea to start doing acts of kindness for the homeless community. One day, the father and son convinced a local Jamba Juice to provide over 100 smoothies – which they handed out to homeless people in a Salt Lake City park.
After that, they started taking some of the homeless people they would meet out to lunch.
“I would ask them where they were from, what their hobbies were, stuff like that," Chase told The Washington Post . “And sometimes they'd share the story of how they became homeless."
After about 150 lunches, Hansen and Chase decided to start a self-funded charity called 'Project Empathy,' to inspire others to connect to homeless people in their communities and help them find resources for housing, employment and alcohol and drug addiction.
One of the people Hansen and Chase met is Mike Campbell, a former electrician who has been homeless for three years. Campbell struggled with mental illness his entire life and was experiencing severe loneliness and despair because of his situation – until he met the father son duo on a bus ride.
“We made a real connection, and soon he was inviting me to bring my sons to go bike-riding or fishing with him and Chase," Campbell said. “Just to know that somebody cared made a huge difference."
The trio have remained friends, Hansen and Chase have continued to help Campbell get the support he needs.
“Their hearts are always on the right side of good," Campbell said. “They've taught me how to be a friend again. I'm still homeless, but they've put me in touch with benefactors to help me with things like a rec center pass so that I can exercise and tires for my bicycle so that I can get around."
During Chase's winter break from school, Hansen and the now 10-year-old took Project Empathy on a mini-road trip to share their experiences and serve food at homeless shelters. They stress the importance of keeping up with the people they meet and developing real friendships, based on trust.
“They're human beings," Chase said. “They're exactly like us. They're just in a worse situation."
Here's Chase with a new friend at St. Vincent de Paul in Arizona...
As for Chase's dad, he's just happy he gets to spend so much time with his son – the life lessons he's learned along the way are just icing on the cake.
“To me, it's my dream as a dad to be on an adventure with my kid where I can teach him but also become impactful and do it together," he said.
Inspired by Chase and his dad's incredible acts of kindness? You can follow their lead and connect to homeless people in your community. Buy them a meal, give them a few bucks, but most importantly, just listen to them. Like the Project Empathy founders discovered, “a free meal is great, but having someone to listen to them and hear them was immeasurable."
Let's #StartSomethingGood together.