The idea is so simple. It’s Rex Holbein’s idea.
“Just say hello,” he says.
He’s asking us to consider looking that homeless person in the eye and saying that one word.
“For me, that word represents a connection with each other, right. It’s saying I’m open to you. I want to know about you and at the same time, I want to share about myself. “
Rex Holbein is the founder and executive director of a non-profit called Facing Homelessness. He gave up a successful architecture career designing million dollar homes to help the homeless.
“That’s the beauty of slowing down and actually getting into people’s lives,” he says.
He’s in people’s lives alright. He and co-worker Sarah Steilen.
“It’s so much more than the items we give out. It’s that connection, whether it be socks or backpacks or coats, you know.”
The homeless stop by. The conversations begin. They happen through the office windows. It’s through the windows where those important connections happen - the giving, the sharing, the love.
“And when they come here, they know that we see them, that we know them, that we hear them. We touch them. We acknowledge the beauty of who they are as a person,” says Steilen.
And they say hello.
The first day we visited, we met Johan. Johan is homeless. I asked him how it made him feel when someone stops and acknowledges him.
“It warms my heart,” he says. “I say thank you for saying hello.”
Paul Heise, who’s on the board of Facing Homelessness, is thankful he met Rex. For him, saying hello has been life changing. He held back tears trying to explain that to me.
“I don’t know why it’s so emotional for me,” he says. “It’s really tough. I wish I could do more.”
One morning we drove around with him as he handed out socks to the homeless, and said hello.
“When I see somebody smile, that makes me feel good because I’ve made a difference in their life that day.”
And here’s a comment Rex and Sarah received the other day from Diane Bell. She expressed her gratitude for the campaign.
“What I love about Facing Homelessness and their campaign encouraging people to Just Say Hello, is that it personalizes and humanizes the incredibly sad and complicated issue of homelessness. I think there are so many people in our community that want to help in some way and yet don’t know how. Facing Homelessness tells us that we can begin by just saying hello. They put names and stories with faces so that we can feel connected to these people and not separate. They tell us what people need so that we can help. It’s just beautiful the way they are building community, and I am so grateful to be a part of it.”
So how about it? Think about doing something today that perhaps you didn’t do yesterday. Just say hello.
You can learn more about the Just say hello campaign at firstname.lastname@example.org. The office is located at 1415 NE 43 Street in Seattle. If you want to donate to the non-profit, they’d love to hear from you. Call Sarah or Rex at (206) 632-7299.