A Dallas artist has a profound purpose for his project that has become his life's work over the past 26 years: He wants you to see the humanity in homeless people.
"There is no 'us and them.' There is just us," said Willie Baronet, the creator of the "We Are All Homeless" project which features many of the approximately 1,800 signs that he has purchased from homeless people over the years.
The messages on the signs vary:
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• "Spare any change?"
• "Need help. Homeless. God Bless."
• "Looking For a Future X Wife."
• "No Bull. Need Beer."
Baronet, who also teaches marketing and creativity at Southern Methodist University, said he will routinely approach homeless people asking for money on the street, strike up a conversation and then offer to pay an average of $15 for the sign that the person is using to solicit money.
His project started as an attempt to overcome his own uneasy feeling when he was approached by a homeless man in Dallas.
"It was more about me than it was about [the homeless person.] And, in some cases, I felt guilty because I was not helping, or I might have had judgments about that person," Baronet said. "But what I would want someone to consider now is that it makes a huge difference just to make eye contact and smile."
Baronet said people who view his art installation often approach him with some version of the same reaction.
"'I am never going to look at people on the street the same way again,'" Baronet said he often hears. "What I think happens is that the signs allow them to lean in and to actually make the connection that there is a human being behind every single one of these signs."
The "We Are All Homeless" project, and Baronet's cross-country effort to further his mission, is the subject of a feature-length documentary called 'Signs of Humanity,' which is available for streaming now for Amazon Prime customers.