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Humans of SHOW seeks to inspire compassion for Phoenix homeless

Inspired by Humans of New York, ASU students tell stories of Phoenix homeless.
February 9, 2017

ASU students volunteer for online photo project that gives people opportunity, platform to tell their own stories

There are two worlds in downtown Phoenix.

One is filled with skyscrapers, new condos and fancy restaurants. Sidewalks are clear, clean and landscaped. But on 12th Street, the skyline is far off. Homeless people gather in dozens, dragging belongings, pushing shopping carts and shuffling past the city’s Human Services Campus.

Each person here has a story, and a group of students have made it their mission to tell it.  

“You can’t really write a story about us until you sit down with us, look around and understand,” said Ryan Kacey, who lives in a nearby shelter. “So many people are not willing to do that.”

Arizona State University student volunteers Faiz Khan and Chandan Saini took photos and recorded audio as Kacey described his life. The work will contribute to an online gallery, inspired by Humans of New York, to induce compassion for a group of people who often go overlooked.

Khan and Saini volunteer at the Student Health Outreach for Wellness Clinic, a health care center run by ASU, Northern Arizona University and the University of Arizona.

Between duties, they pass out water bottles, snap pictures and listen.

The stories they collect end up as part of the Humans of SHOW social media campaign that draws attention to the clinic on the Human Services Campus, featuring portrait-style photographs of the people they serve.

“People should try to engage with the homeless more,” said Saini, a senior studying psychology at ASU. “And that’s the point of this project, to break down the barriers, stereotypes and stigmas, so they can be viewed as people.”

The project is the brainchild of Maggie Delaney, a physical therapy graduate student at Northern Arizona University. It came to her after someone said something offensive.

“There was an unsavory comment I heard from a health care provider who hadn’t worked with this population before,” Delaney said. “They had an experience with a homeless client who came in and thought they didn’t deserve free or quality care because they are homeless.”

Delaney worked with three other students to pitch the idea to leadership at the SHOW Clinic, and it has grown quickly.

She wanted to give homeless people a platform, a way to be heard and seen.

“We all sit at home, and we don't think about them,” Delaney said. “They don't have a voice or avenue to let people know who they are or how they ended up homeless. They’re pretty misunderstood.”

Humans of SHOW has pushed volunteers to look beyond health care.

“I wanted to get out of my comfort zone, which is why I signed up to participate in this project,” Saini said.

Facebook post of woman and her story

A handful of stories have been published already.

“People have preconceived notions that the homeless are unhygienic, uneducated, unintelligent, unmotivated, addicted, but that’s just not true,” Khan said. “There are people like Ivy, where this is just not true. She is very educated and intelligent, but she’s in a situation that may or may not be temporary.”

The published stories don’t mention homelessness. Nor do they always show the face of the subject. It’s meant to blur the lines between people who have places to live and those who don’t. By erasing the distinction, the volunteers hope to create empathy.

“Saying these people should go get a job lacks empathy,” Delaney said. “So after this project started, I could actually tell stories about people who are in these different situations in very different ways, people who were once completely functional in society and many who are educated.”

Saini sat with a woman who wished to remain unidentified. “No one really knows me,” she said. “People talk to me. People see me. But no one knows me.”

The woman was hesitant at first, but before long she opened up to Khan and Saini.

Delaney has been pleased with the interactions. “At first, I thought no one would want to talk about it because we would ask what they think about homelessness,” Delaney said. “The last thing we wanted to do is exploit these people. I wanted them to all have a choice.”

Once the volunteers completed their rounds, they return to the clinic where they transcribe interviews, edit photos and schedule posts.

“It’s important to realize that these are people, and you need to imagine them complexly,” Khan said. “They have their own stories, and we shouldn’t turn them into a one-dimensional character or just an image in your head that you view negatively, because that is not good for anybody.”


Top photo: Ryan Kacey talks to Student Health Outreach for Wellness volunteers ASU senior Chandan Saini (left) and junior Faiz Khan as part of the Humans of SHOW project. Kacey, who is originally from New Jersey, used to be a maintenance worker in Phoenix. Photo by Anya Magnuson/ASU Now

Reporter , ASU Now

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February 10, 2017

Students from Beihang University took part in role-playing games, watched documentaries and toured Arizona sites

A two-week workshop at Arizona State University's School of Sustainability brought students from China a new way of systems thinking to analyze complex sustainability problems.

The 16 students came from Beijing's Beihang University, an elite research university known for launching the first light passenger aircraft in China in 1950s.

“The thing about these students that is most impressive is that they’re pretty serious engineering and math scholars who want to find solutions to the planet’s current and future sustainability challenges,” said Ryan Johnson, executive director for the School of Sustainability's Executive and Professional Education.

Professor Marty AnderiesMarty Anderies is a professor in both the School of Sustainability and the School of Human Evolution and Social Change, the latter in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. He is also a senior sustainability scientist in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability and associate director of the Center for Behavior, Institutions and the Environment. introduced to students key sustainability challenge areas of food, water, energy and urbanization from the local to the global scale. His sustainability class was a combination of learning activities: documentary and dialogue, interactive role-playing games, field trips and lectures.

By watching short documentaries, students got to dive into specific cases on sustainability. For instance, “Soil Carbon Cowboys,” created by ASU professor of practice Peter Byck, shows how ranchers in Mississippi, North Dakota and Canada regenerate their soils while making their animals healthier and their operations more profitable.

Students also spent a class session playing an interactive Resilience Game that put the students into the role of city managers trying to solve problems such as walkability, air quality, aging infrastructure and sense of community.

“They’ve been extremely engaged,” said Anderies, also noting that the students could well comprehend mathematical analysis in class. 

The students were living in Arizona during Chinese Lunar New Year break, and an authentic Chinese meal in Mesa and a performance by a Chinese-American string quartet didn’t disappoint.

“Everything went smoothly, and I also feel very safe on campus,” sophomore Tianzhi Yang said. 

Whether it was the First Fridays art walk in downtown Phoenix, a tour to the Native American archaeological site Pueblo Grande or even a special sustainability tour to Chase Field, the group got to experience a taste of the American Southwest, both ancient and modern.

Team lead Jianglong Zhang is a doctoral student at Beihang University who helped design this partnership workshop. He said they chose ASU because the university is well-known in academia in China for its leading research and heavy focus in sustainability. 


Top photo: Doctoral student Everett Eustance (center left) tells a group of 16 students from Beihang University about ASU's work in researching algae as both a biofuel and as protein and carbohydrate food source at the Polytechnic campus on Feb. 7. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Jennifer (Danchen) Zhou

International Communications Manager , Media Relations & Strategic Communications