Don't Look Away

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It was a warm day in Los Angeles when I was on my walk back from the bakery with a load of bagels.  As is becoming an all-too-often occurrence in our city and so many others, a homeless man was standing on the sidewalk, leaning up against a pillar, with the noonday sun beating down directly on him.  I stopped, and handed him a bagel and a bottle of water. As I did so, I looked him in the eye and told him to have a good day. This was very different from what I’ve usually done when passing a homeless person, which is to look away, not engage, and maybe wonder why they’re not doing something other than begging.

It was different this time because of a very special event I went to a few nights prior.

Colleagues of mine had mentioned an upcoming Ideation session in the LA Arts District that would be held at a place called the Impact Hub where people and organizations involved in social entrepreneurship were going to be ideating to work towards solutions to homelessness and the housing crisis in the city. Having grown up in LA, I have seen homelessness increase dramatically over the years, despite the many efforts undertaken to alleviate it.

Our group from BrandIQ headed to what turned out to be an astonishing evening at the Impact Hub.  After some initial networking, there was an open mic session where people explained what they were doing to combat the problem or what plans they had to make National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week (which begins November 12) meaningful and effective.  Then, we split into groups to ideate around various topics related to homelessness — such areas as safety, housing, and community integration.

In addition to all the innovative homeless initiatives going on in my city, I learned something really important that evening — a lesson for the ages. It was from a homeless man who was part of my ideation team.  He explained that the most important thing you can do for a homeless person isn’t to hand them money, or find them food or clothing.  Rather, it is to simply acknowledge them.  To let them know you really see them.   To ask them how they are.  To look them in the eye. These are small actions that can mean big things to someone.

So, on that hot fall day, I felt like I made a difference in the life of that homeless man on the corner.  Maybe it was just for that moment, but in that moment, I made him smile.

On a broader scale, as part of the BrandIQ team, and as a B Corp, we try to use business as a force for good — and as best we can, try to practice it on a daily basis.  We use our passion and creativity to inspire and empower our clients and ourselves to improve the quality of life of people everywhere.  Sometimes we succeed, and sometimes we fall short — but it’s in all of us to keep trying.