Saturday, February 21, 2009

Are they helping the homeless or making a joke out of them?

The other day I was catching up on my blog reading and ended up on one of my favorites Hey look, a chicken! written by none other than katdish. I really like katdish and enjoy her writing quite a bit. She's right up my sarcastic alley ;) If you haven't visited her site(s) yet I encourage you to get over there. I think you'll like her.

That days post was titled Pimp this Bum dot com and that title dragged me into her story. I followed a link she had included to her pastor Jeff's blog Convergence and a post he had titled Marketing Homelessness. (I would like to add that I include links in about 98/100 of my posts and I hope that you follow them and decide your own opinions on the stories I write based on the original stories.)

Both those posts are about an experiment in viral advertising and specifically about the website Pimp This Bum! (Yes, you can visit the website for yourself by following the link I included but it's a duel edged sword; to be able to reach an educated opinion it's necessary to visit the site but by visiting you will increase the counter that is keeping track of visitors thus creating a "win" for the people running it.)

Here's my issues with this site.

1. It says ALL the money goes to Tim (the man featured) yet Tim is still on the streets. IF he's actually receiving money through these people why isn't he sleeping somewhere besides under a bridge? And I wonder if they are telling him about the money? How much has been made "for" him.

2. It has a 'Wish List' with items such as a cheeseburger & fries for $3.50, a razor for $1.00 under which it says "Too good looking already" and laser hair removal for $130.00. Is that a joke? It seems like a joke and a really rude one. If they really wanted to help Tim why don't they just say here's this man that really needs some help what can you give? Why put things that he really doesn't need? It's so demeaning to me. It feels like one of those games you play. You know like "Coffee Buzz" where you buy ingredients to make coffee's. It's not right on so many levels I can't even put it into words.

3. The title itself is demeaning. A pimp is associated with prostitution and taking advantage of people and illegal activities resulting in lots of money for the pimp and usually a lot of pain for the other person involved. And 'bum' is just as bad. It's a hateful word to me. Someone who has gotten to the point of living on the street certainly doesn't deserve the added grief of someone calling them names. These people claim to be helping but again all I see is hurting.

There are actually a lot of things that bother me about this site but every time I try to write them down the anger fills my head again and I get nowhere. This is the furthest I've gotten with it and I can feel the anger in the pit of my stomach starting again.

So now I'm leaving it up to you. Tell me what YOU think about this. Is it a legitimate program that is helping people or is it something that is taking advantage of them? I need some help with this one. It's all I can think about right now. I REALLY want to drive into Houston and find Tim and give him a bag of food or something. It just breaks my heart.


Helen said...

Hi Kathy. I agree with all of your points, so I am going to skip over to your last question. The more I have thought about this the angry I have become. I started out trying to assume the best about the people running this site, but that is getting harder and harder. Why "pimpthisbum"? If they wanted to use the media to help him, why not a facebook page with his name, so people who know him and might not know he needs help can help? Why not let us "friend" him, and give us the opportunity to say "Hey, what can I do? I can get you a PO box and send you a check. I have a friend in Houston who is hiring.....I have a generous cousin in Houston said she would get you toiletries and let you shower there...." Because there is no way for them to take advantage there.....
The more I try to think that they are just trying to use media to help, the more I think of more dignified ways to do it that could be just as beneficial if not more. And if I could, they could've if they wanted to.
Now I am sounding uncharitable.
Your post was very thoughtful. I want to write one as Katdish requested, but I am probably going to wait until Monday.

Neen said...

My son was homeless for a very long time. I rarely knew where he was.I already know I won't be able to stand reading it. I would put bag lunches in my car everyday to give to the homeless in my neighborhood. It somehow made me hope that MAYBE someone...somewhere was doing the same for my son and doing it while allowing him to keep his dignity as a human being.

katdish said...


Thanks for writing this post. I am struggling with many of the same things that I think many of us are. I have received 2 emails from this organization - one from the son, and one from the father. The son was polite but dismissive, the father gave a rather empassioned plea in an attempt to explain why they are doing this. While I appreciate the father's response, I'm still not buying it. The real question is, does the end justify the means? Who's to say that this will do anything to help Tim in the long run? I drove by earlier today. I saw Tim, but by the time I had circled back around he was gone. I said hello to John, another one of the guys who camp out at 6 and I-10. Since I was by myself, I did not get out of my car, but just being stopped under that overpass gives you a small taste of their reality. It is much harsher than it appears when driving by at 40 mph. I cannot honestly say that I wouldn't jump at the chance as Tim has done. I've never walked a mile in his shoes. It is a very dangerous life.

Jeff said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeff said...

Hi Kathy, great post. Sorry for deleting my first comment- I found a huge typo and wanted to fix it! Anyway, thanks so much for weighing in on your blog about this.

I've been told that the things you can click on to buy are to be taken tongue-in-cheek, and that Tim is "in on" the joke. I think, when we boil it all down, some folks will decide that this is somehow mutually beneficial, and is therefore okay.

But I'm finding myself asking this question: Would anyone- Christ follower or not- be okay with this if our church had started the site? Or, would we have been chastised for a heartless gimmick? If we can't imagine a church doing this, how can it be an "okay" thing for a marketing company to do?

Again, thanks- great post.


Wendy said...

Hey there, Kathy! I was prepared for the worst when I went over there so it didn't seem as shocking to me once I got there.

It *is* pretty weird, however, a couple of things from a slightly different perspective...

Usage of the word "pimp" -- they might be using it in the same sense of that show "Pimp My Ride", the reality show where they fancy-up a normal car, adding a lot of bling to it. That could be what they meant more than something like "pimping him out". That was my initial impression.

Regarding the rest, yeah, I'd be really curious to know how the money is handled. Does he get a little each week? How much is coming in? I'd be interested to know how it works. It's an interesting idea, but I wish it were not done in such a humorous way.

The "model" they are following is similar to what other charities do, for example, Heifer International asks you to "buy" geese or cows or whatever. You actually aren't buying the animals, you're just donating money that goes into a pool to operate the charity. Similar to that is Habitat for Humanity. You can buy pieces of sheetrock or boxes of nails, etc. You're not REALLY buying those things, but it does put it into perspective and make it easy to see what your money is potentially purchasing.

Anyway, those are a couple of thoughts that might take the sting out of it a tiny bit for you.

Wendy said...

Sorry, I wanted to add something about churches...

I really DO think if one were to design something with a similar concept and make it part of their ministry it could work out really well.

On the web site you can structure it as I mentioned like Heifer or Habitat where you have various levels: Coffee, Meal (breakfast, lunch, dinner, different price levels), Haircut, different pricing levels of toiletries, Shirt, Pants, etc up to higher levels like "night in hotel" or "month of rent", etc. It makes it more fun and interesting to donate.

If you look at they also have a great model where you can donate toward a person's goal and see a little "progress" bar. So, for example, the church's goal was to get each homeless person a year of rent and utilities that could be the goal and people could see how far they had gotten. A year of living in a home goes a long way to get someone on their feet.

So, anyway, my point is this is a great way to get inspired to start a viral marketing campaign that is compassionate and respectful. I'm not sure the type of people who find that sort of humor funny are the type of people who are donating to charity. But that could me being judgemental and narrow-minded. :)

pammie said...

interesting all the points of view!
all this reminds me of a newscast i saw this weekend about this lady who started out helping the homeless by filling up her reg wagon with food and walking it around, and then she finally was able to open an actual restaurant that serves the homeless and allows them to actually choose food off a menu instead of having to only eat what was being offered....great idea! so i looked for a link about it but couldnt find that particular story...but i DID find a few more very similar! neat stuff!

Anonymous said...

I absolutely understand the strong feelings expressed on here. I wanted to explain my side on a few points. First off, Tim has a fantastic sense of humor. He laughed at the idea, and had nothing to lose, only something to gain. Why bring him a fish, when we can teach him how to fish? So many people claim they are helping the homeless by giving to them. The fact is, they are simply placing a temporary band aid where surgery is needed. Tim can't get a job because he is addicted to alcohol. He shakes every morning, and loses use of bodily function if he doesn't get alcohol. If we put him up in a hotel every night, he would drain all the money from his account and be left on the street. He has requested to keep his money in the account unless there is an emergency. He is very honest, and giving, and will give all his money away to friends if he has it. The site was offensive on purpose. If our site was we wouldn't have been on Fox & Friends yesterday. Period. Sad, but true. By design, we wanted to create controversy and buzz, so that in the end, we could leverage sponsorship to provide the 'surgery' Tim needs to permanently remove himself from his situation.

We planned on the site reaching a critical mass (which happened today) at which time we would tone it down. We currently have the toned-down version of the site which includes all the donors and the latest addition of SunRay treatment center which has donated a 13,800 scholarship for Alcohol Addiction treatment. He has a rough few weeks ahead of him, as he will have to detox before acceptance into the program. Tim has become like a brother to me, and places a lot of trust in us because we have been a constant in his life and always do what we say we will. He currently has around $1,432 in donations. We have made zero profit, in fact, our family has given more than any individual (that we know of) to help him.

I'm an eagle scout, you can check the records. I'm not going to collect all this money and steal it from a homeless man. It's shocking to me that in this world, no good deed goes unpunished. Is this what we want to teach people? Do a good turn for the sake of helping someone, and others will assume you have ulterior motives? What happened to benefit of the doubt?

And as Tim has said many times, if you don't want to donate, no hard feelings. We feel the same way, if we offend 100 people in order to reach 1,000 who donate, in the end it's more help for Tim.

Thank you to those who do understand what we are doing, there are 20 of you to every 1 who doesn't. And no hard feelings to those who criticize. If Tim gets out of rehab and gets his life back, you'll come around. :)

-Sean Dolan

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