Beverly: "I've never had a Facebook or an Instagram or a reddit. We need to reach out and touch each other in a positive way, bring back our humanity. My son was killed when he was 18. I've had some horrible traumas. But I keep the faith, and work with Jess and Kevin to help the homeless reunite with the people that love them, people at where I was at a few years ago."

Brian: "I've lived in the Tenderloin in San Francisco for many years. It's changed a lot. I've been on the streets. Now I'm a community ambassador with Miracle Messages, to make a difference because that's what I'm all about."

Kevin and Jess are the leaders of Miracle Messages, a nonprofit reunion service for our neighbors experiencing homelessness to reconnect with their loved ones. Our approach is simple and effective: a person isolated by homelessness records a short video, audio, or written message to a family member or friend, often with the help of a local referral partner, trained outreach volunteer, or formerly homeless ambassador. Then, dozens of internet-savvy "digital detectives" attempt to locate the loved one, deliver the message, and facilitate a reunion.

We offer a humane way to help end homelessness: reconnect families, shatter stigmas, and empower local residents to get involved. To date, Miracle Messages has reunited 266 families, with an average time disconnected of 15 years, using our mobile app, online and paper-based forms, and 1-800-MISS-YOU hotline. 80% of delivered messages have been positively received, and dozens of reunions have resulted in getting a client off-the-streets, all at a fraction of the cost of other interventions.

We believe that everyone is someone's somebody. Our work has been featured in the New York Times, Brut, NowThis, on a billboard in Times Square, in a TED talk, and 600 other publications, receiving 100 million views. Founder Kevin F. Adler started Miracle Messages in honor of his uncle, who lived on-and-off the streets for 30 years. We are on a mission to end relational poverty on the streets and, in the process, inspire people everywhere to embrace their homeless neighbors not as problems to be solved, but as people to be loved.

Website: https://miraclemessages.org/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/miraclemessages/

Various media coverage:

Proof: https://www.facebook.com/miraclemessages/posts/2496099330458215 Proof 2 nice photo at reddit HQ: https://i.redd.it/ngje6guxjg241.jpg

(Kevin is typing all the responses, unless otherwise noted!)

UPDATE: Thanks everyone for the great questions! We had a wonderful time. We're heading to a lunch & learn now here at Reddit HQ. Hope you'll get involved with us and support our work... we need you. :)

http://miraclemessages.org/getinvolved

Comments: 67 • Responses: 33  • Date: 

JPT787037 karma

We hear a lot from our leaders in the city about how we need to address homelessness, but it's hard to see any changes happening as I move through the city. What are good ways to keep ourselves as a city accountable? What can I do? What can I expect my city officials to do?

MiracleMessages-7 karma

Beverly: Walk and talk to the homeless people. I think they are making money off of homeless people. They can stop it. They don't want to. They are getting paid. I think it's wrong. I've born and raised here, I've never seen it this bad. It'll take a group to stop this problem.

scoofy21 karma

I think they are making money off of homeless people.

Honestly, this is bordering on conspiracy-theory level nonsense. I am a resident here, and the city of San Francisco is spending hundreds of millions per year on homelessness services, often to non-profits such as yours.

The problem is immense, intersects with other hot-button issue in the city (often regarding housing), and it is difficult to deal with issues like that of maintaining personal-agency without criminalizing poor decisions and habits.

To suggest that city officials are personally profiting, and could stop it but that they don't want to, is honestly wildly ignorant and genuinely offensive.

MiracleMessages3 karma

Kevin: Hey u/scoofy u/jdsf319 and others, your concerns are valid; thought I'd provide more context FWIW.

In yesterday's AMA, I tried to strike a balance between sharing our organization's thoughts on this issue, represented by Miracle Messages' Executive Director Jessica Donig and myself, and giving a platform to two of our wonderful formerly homeless community ambassadors (Brian and Beverly) to share their perspectives of living on-and-off the streets of the Tenderloin for 30 years. Clearly, this approach was not perfect.

While there were a few instances yesterday where Brian or Beverly responded in a way that Jess and I would not necessarily agree with or have preferred to phrase things differently, I felt it was important to not overly filter the experience of two very frustrated lifelong residents of the Tenderloin who have a very real lived experience around this issue that Jess and I do not have. Admittedly, I could have done a better job yesterday adding in thoughts and comments like this one throughout the AMA, but with the rapid fire nature of the conversation, a tight time table, and Beverly and Brian eager to share their thoughts with "the internet" (neither of them have used reddit or Facebook before, etc), I opted to do what I could to let them share their perspectives.

On this particular issue, I certainly don't believe that people in the San Francisco city government, nonprofits, or anyone I have met doing this work for five years in SF or elsewhere is nefariously trying to make money off of the homeless at the sake of actually addressing this issue.

However, I do think Beverly brings up a valid point, based in her experience and observation on this issue, even if I'd have put it a bit differently: in my experience, there is something I'd call the homelessness industrial complex, where the incentives are to provide more and more units of service without regard to whether they are actually working properly or not, focusing on preventive services, thinking from a regional and more comprehensive perspective of what else is needed and who else is needed in the room to address this issue, and working together collaborative with other people and organizations to ensure you're not in a silo.

I shared more of my thoughts on this issue a few years ago in an op/ed in the San Francisco Chronicle with Don Burnes (a professor at the University of Denver and long-time expert on the issues of homelessness and poverty), here if interested: https://www.sfchronicle.com/opinion/openforum/article/Social-venture-connects-lost-loved-ones-with-9145724.php

Thanks for the important dialogue!

MiracleMessages2 karma

Jess: There are a lot of things that could be done, even within the systems that currently exist. But there isn't any ingenuity, because we don't look at the systems from the perspective of the people who actually need to use them. We need human-centered design, and we don't have it right now.

espangenberg5 karma

If you were the sole rulers of San Francisco, what would you do or implement to improve that homeless situation in the city?

MiracleMessages7 karma

Beverly: we need more mental health facilities: more psychiatrists, more therapists, more drug programs. They should invest in some mental facilities for these people. Stop putting the bandaids on it.

Brian: If they added more housing in the city, that would be a blessing for the homeless.

Jess: In addition to both of those, every housed person in San Francisco should have a conversation with one person who is experiencing homelessness. For many people in San Francisco, the issue of homelessness is faceless. People care more about helping the people that they know. I think that would make a big difference.

MiracleMessages6 karma

Beverly: also, people need to learn how to reintegrate into society. A lot of these people don't know.

Chtorrr3 karma

Do you have a favorite story about Miracle Messages you'd like to tell us?

MiracleMessages10 karma

Kevin: One of my new favorites is unfolding right now... an Aztec Indian man named Jose Ruiz who was sold into slavery at age 8 in Zacatecas, Mexico, escaped, ended up in Corpus Christi, Texas, has been on the streets for 40+ years, hasn't seen his family in decades. The post was shared over 200 times, and a Univision reporter drove 6 hours into the mountains, located the farm where he grew up, and was able to find his family.

And literally just a few minutes ago, Jose Ruiz showed up at our partner's site in Corpus Christi, Texas, as we had previously scheduled. We showed him the video from his brothers, and I just watched his reaction. Wow.

Here's the original post, and the others in my feed tell the rest of the story: https://www.facebook.com/kfadler/posts/10100332500767736

MiracleMessages9 karma

Beverly (Kevin typing): Jesse Florence. I just took to him. He had seven siblings. I couldn't find him. I was driving you crazy. Jessica crazy. Brian and I was getting into it. When I found him, and the moment became a reality, I wouldn't let him hide. He almost fainted when he saw me. It just broke my heart. He got a chance to reconnect with his family. And they know he is alive and well. He quit drinking. I had a part of that. It made me feel good. For weeks and weeks I was looking, everywhere: Glide, the Ferry Building. I was losing sleep. But it was worth it. To see his face, that's why I do what I do. He's looking good.

MiracleMessages6 karma

Brian (Kevin typing): We were doing outreach back on the Embarcadero with a company (Talent International). When we met Greg, he was drunk, he was hurting. I saw the pain in his eye. He wanted to be back with his niece. We all walked down to the Greyhound station. The ticket was too expensive – it was $200. So I gave him $5, and I said, "I hope this helps you out for today. Let's meet tomorrow and see if we can get you home to Iowa on Homeward Bound." We met the next day. He got on a bus back to Iowa. He quit drinking. He quit drugging. He's doing real well with his family. He made us laugh. He had that gorilla mask. He was fun. We kept in touch for a few months after that. "I'm doing better. I'm doing better."

Jess (Kevin typing): What I remember from that story is I showed up and we went for coffee. We pulled out our "Neighbor" key from Giving Keys, which has the word Neighbor on it. We gave one to him. Brian showed his key. Then Greg showed his key from the first time we met him. And they started to cry. It was emotional.

Beverly (Kevin typing): I cried like a baby when he got on that bus.

MiracleMessages3 karma

Here is Greg's video: https://youtu.be/zOyGZ0B7lcE

DroneObserver2 karma

Who would get a massage from a homeless man? This business plan gets a no from me, dog.

MiracleMessages2 karma

Kevin: Haha, Miracle Massages sounds like a very different service.

kirkydoodle2 karma

Are you duplicating the efforts of the City’s Homeward Bound program?

MiracleMessages2 karma

Kevin: Good question.

Answer: nope.

As a quick background for those who don't know, Homeward Bound is a widely replicated one-way bus ticket program that helps the homeless relocate to live with out-of-town loved ones.

Homeward Bound is a final step, not a first: it doesn't create opportunities for rebuilding relationships, reconciling past grievances, strengthening local social supports, or establishing potential lifelines for the future.

As such, Homeward Bound refers clients to Miracle Messages, and vice versa when we have a reunion that is appropriate for Homeward Bound's narrower focus on one-way bus tickets out of the region for moving away.

strikerdude102 karma

Thank you for doing this! I've heard lots of people talk about homeless people coming to SF from around the country due to its relatively lax enforcement and abundance of homeless services. In your experience is there any truth to that statement? A myth? Something in between?

AftyOfTheUK2 karma

As someone moving to San Francisco soon, I've also heard this (about California in general) - that a huge part of the problem is homeless people from other parts of the country who are travelling there to avoid harsh winters and to get the help they need that they can't get at home.

Curious about how true this is, and how large the issue is.

MiracleMessages1 karma

Kevin: Hey u/strikerdude10 and u/AftyOfTheUK, this is a myth.

From the SF Chronicle: https://projects.sfchronicle.com/sf-homeless/homeless-questions/

Q: "Do homeless people often relocate — move to a particular city because of better services, sense of community, weather, etc.?"

A: A vast majority stay in the community they are most familiar with. That said, a small percentage may select cities where they think they will get more assistance. In San Francisco, the city found in 2019 that 55% of homeless people reported living in San Francisco for 10 or more years, and just 6% said they’d lived in San Francisco for less than one year.

travelintiger2 karma

Hi Beverly, Brian, Kevin and Jess, thanks for taking the time to answer these questions. I've heard and read a lot about the Tenderloin district. I'm sure there are loads of incredibly grateful people that wouldnt have had a chance to re-connect with their loved ones without you!

In your experience(s), what are the most frequent challenges/obstacles that you face when trying to help people reunite with loved ones?

MiracleMessages5 karma

Brian: some people get hostile to us, or they ignore us. We try to talk to them. We try to talk to them. Sometimes they don't want anything to do with the family. We understand.

Beverly: gaining their trust. Getting them to look me in the eye, and trust me. And keeping our word and coming back. And getting them to be still so we can find them again. This city is really big.

Kevin: overcoming the shame and pride that keeps so many people disconnected in the first place.

Beverly: like that lady named Dolores. She be like, "get out of here. You full of S-H-I-T." It took me three days to gain her trust. And she ended up recording a message with us. I got her to go to the wellness center. She trying.

Qu1nlan2 karma

Hi, thank you for joining us! I walk through the TL pretty frequently, and see a lot of homeless folks. I always give cash when I can, but I don't frequently carry cash - what's another good way for me to directly assist those people in need?

MiracleMessages6 karma

(Kevin typing)

Brian: socks

Beverly: hygiene kits, gift cards – burger king, target

Jess: looking someone in the eye and talking to them, giving them a nice hello, that goes a long way

Kevin: Great question. We hear this a lot. We are launching a new program in the next few weeks called "Miracle Packs," a monthly care package subscription with socks, our 1-800-MISS-YOU cards, and other key items. If you're interested in getting one of these packs, you can sign up on our website: http://miraclemessages.org/getinvolved

MiracleMessages2 karma

A few questions for all of you:

  1. What is a way you help people experiencing homelessness in your own community?

  2. If you know someone who has experienced homelessness (or you have personally experienced homelessness), what would you want people to know?

  3. What are the barriers that you feel keep you from connecting further around this issue / with your neighbors living on the streets?

cowinabadplace2 karma

Say that you’re homeless but not a drug user, not mentally ill, and on the streets through financial accident. How would someone wanting to help you be able to differentiate you from a mentally ill homeless person or a drug-using homeless person?

MiracleMessages5 karma

Brian: sit down and have a talk with them. Figure out what they are all about. And then, suggest some resources.

Beverly: that's what I was going to say. See how they responding. By their appearance you can tell. Hands. Fingers. Stuff in their face.

Jess: You can ask. Like you can ask anyone in the world whatever you want. You can ask them.

MiracleMessages2 karma

Jess: people want to talk about what they are going through, but you have to engage them.

Togapr331 karma

What would you say are the biggest challenges facing San Francisco/The Bay Area in terms of homelessness?

Would love your POV as you both have lived through it.

MiracleMessages3 karma

Beverly & Brian: mental health facilities, affordable housing, and learning the basics (how to keep your place clean, drugs/rehab, etc)

Chtorrr1 karma

What would you most like to tell us that no one ever asks about?

MiracleMessages3 karma

Beverly: no one takes the time out to even stop and say, "hi, how are you doing today?" A lot of people don't share concern.

Brian: I have people who come up to me and say, "I want you to be the first to know: I've changed my gender." They trust me and tell me. I'm bi. I'm into men now. Whatever it is. I say, "that's okay. That's your prerogative. That's up to you. We are still friends."

Jess: Very few people ask me about the inner lives of homelessness. Of people experiencing homelessness. If people were to ask that question, there is so much I'd answer with. Like, when people end up on the streets, they feel so lost, and just need someone to help them navigate the system. Or that, yes they need housing, but there is so much else occupying their mind. People ask, "why don't people just move to a place where there is more housing?" They don't ask, "how is it possible that people who grew up in a place is no longer hospitable to them?" That's a heart-wrenching question.

Brian: people don't need tents, they need housing.

Beverly: I think the mistake people make is to give them tents.

Jess: I think the mistake people make is to make people feel that the only option they have to stay in the city they love is to sleep in a tent on the street.

Beverly: that's right. (crying) I was homeless. I live downtown. Every day it gets worse. It breaks my damn heart. Every day, more kids live there. They can't even walk down the street safely. It's a damn shame. It's heart-wrenching. I've never seen it this bad.

mc9881 karma

Hey Beverly and Brian! Fellow Tenderloin resident here.

First off - thanks for what you do and congrats on Miracle Messages!

Second - Can you speak on some of the lesser known challenges of the homeless here in SF?

Third - Favorite spot to get a cheap bite to eat in the TL? Mine is Fresh Brew up on Bush/Taylor.

MiracleMessages3 karma

Beverly: (laughing)

Beverly: I've got a good one. A lot of people living on the streets are afraid. Maybe because of their pride or shame. But a lot of people are afraid to talk about what brought them to their homelessness. We gotta help people deal with the issues that buried deep down within the belly.

Beverly: And for cheap eats, Lafayette Cafe, on Larkin/Eddy. Smacking breakfast right there.

MiracleMessages3 karma

Brian: (laughing)

Brian: trying to get medical care.

Brian: for cheap eats, pizza place on Larkin and O'Farrell. I forget the name. Nice little pizza place right there.

MiracleMessages3 karma

Brian (with the help of a reddit employee doing research): Piccolo Italia (Pizza)

MiracleMessages2 karma

Jess: a lot of people tell me they have a hard time doing laundry.

MiracleMessages3 karma

Brian: that's a good one Jessica.

Beverly: women want to be clean. I don't care if they homeless or not. They want to be clean. That's an excellent one.

MockDeath1 karma

First, it is super awesome that you are doing this. People helping others should be more common.

Having been homeless, what do you think the biggest change it caused for your perception? How did it shape your world view differently from how you see other peoples world view?

MiracleMessages3 karma

(Kevin typing)

Brian: We were accepted through the shelter systems, the food pantries. But mostly, when you got your clothes dirty, you walk down the streets, and people don't want you coming in to their restaurants, making eye contact with you.

Beverly: being homeless is terrible. The shame. The stigma. Anyone who is homeless is drug users. They are lazy. They don't want to work. Being a woman, working in San Francisco all my life. I was so ashamed. A woman brought me into a program. One woman invited me in. It changed my life. I promised when I got my life together, I would come back and help other women out. Because I've been molested, assaulted, domestic violence, beat up. Nonstop. So I did the drugs to escape. God knows what these people are doing to these females out here. I have so many blessings for giving back. That's why I love Miracle Messages. Everyone needs love. Everyone needs a second chance. Take little baby steps. One step at a time. That's why I love working with Miracle Messages. I've never seen it this bad in San Francisco. It's TERRIBLE. It's sad. One of the most beautiful cities in the world. It's sad.

Brian: Miracle Messages taught me to be social. To just check in on people. I see people sleeping in doorways. They have jobs. They go to those portable showers. We make people feel better.

JoeCedarFromAlameda1 karma

Thank you all for what you do, and so proud of Beverly and Brian for their incredible spirit!

Do you have any best practices for cities when it comes to supporting homeless nonprofits such as yourselves and integrating with their programs?

MiracleMessages3 karma

Kevin: working together, being in regular communication, being a team not in silos, seeing each other as indispensable, not adversaries. Unfortunately, in our experience, people get egos and "territories" in the way of actually seeing how we can work together. The cities that have fared best around this issue are ones where everyone comes to the table on an ongoing basis, shares updates on big picture stuff and on individual cases, and embraces a collective sense that we are in this together. In San Francisco, the attitude too often is, "leave us alone, trust us, we've got this, you don't know what you're talking about." Unfortunately this does not square with the reality that everyone sees everyday in this city we all call home.

MiracleMessages3 karma

Jess: and if we can all talk honestly about what each program CAN'T offer, and how we need to refer, we can start to work together.

MiracleMessages3 karma

Jess: also, we all need to use empathy to design our programs. When I'm at the DMV, I hate being in line, it is so frustrating. When services are putting their programs together, they often don't think about how frustrating it is to access their programs. We all could do better at that.

mercsterreddit1 karma

Did you guys start out as a couple?

MiracleMessages1 karma

Beverly and Brian: no.

Kevin and Jess: no.

But we all love each other. :)

Wellmeaninglaowai1 karma

What are some ways to help build empathy and understanding for people who are homeless?

MiracleMessages3 karma

Beverly: to build empathy, you need to get to know people. Buy them coffee. Go out to the homeless communities. You've got to have a heart. You've got to have some toughness. Don't be afraid.

Jess: something Brian and Beverly said to me that I want to echo: every day is hard. Everything is hard to do. Doing laundry. Feeling safe. If I was teaching kids, I'd have them think about all the ways their home matters to them. Where do you go when it rains. Where do you put your stuff. I'd get them to think about that. And then imagine what it would be like if they didn't have that. And how hard it is to manage your health. How do you take your meds if you can't refrigerate them.

Kevin: I can't imagine being homeless. But I can get to know people who are experiencing homelessness, and listen to their story. Being friends with someone, being in solidarity with someone, being proximate to someone... by being close, their experience is revealed, and we can see clearer.

Kevin: relational poverty is poverty. We can work together to address the isolation and loneliness on the streets, while we work together to build a more equitable city for us all.

Beverly: we all need love.

Dad_Bodington1 karma

Where did you live before you were homeless living in the tenderloin?

MiracleMessages0 karma

Beverly: I grew up in Bayview / Hunter's Point.

Brian: I was born in Bayview / Hunter's Point, then I was raised in Bernal Heights. I left home at 17. They said there were too many mouths to feed in the house. And they couldn't deal with my bad habits (drugs, etc).

Chtorrr1 karma

What is your favorite thing about helping people?

MiracleMessages2 karma

Brian: it makes us feel good inside.

Beverly: it brings me joy. it makes me happy. love thy neighbor. I just get a joy out of it. I've won their trust. They can look me in the eye and light up and they look up at me. It gives me unspeakable joy. They tell me what they need. Like that man, we met at St. Anthony's, Mr. Malone... I see that something was wrong. I was like, dude call the ambulance. "Oh he drunk." The other guy said. He ain't drunk! He need an ambulance. A lot of these people are ill, they sick, they need serious help. When you work in the field, you need to be trained on what to look for.

Jess: it keeps me honest. Sometimes when I do something that helps people, I feel resistance. And I have to think about why I feel that resistance. Sometimes I feel great. But then I think: what happens next? And how does that effect the next step that you take.

Kevin: having someone look me in the eye, and whether they say thank you or not, doesn't matter – that look is a look of shared humanity, that you did me well today, maybe I've got you tomorrow or you'll need me someday. That look touches my heart every time.

Chtorrr0 karma

What is the very best dessert?

MiracleMessages2 karma

Beverly: peach cobbler

Brian: banana cream pie

Jess: cookie dough ice cream

Kevin: pistachio gelato