From 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., Casey Cork put names and faces to one of the city’s most misunderstood populations.
She spent her nights at the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless getting to know the residents, never asking how they got there, but learning about their lives before the ARCH.
“I didn’t know how they came into homelessness,” Cork said. “I just knew them the way I knew anybody else.”
On her off time from the ARCH, she surveyed random people on the street, asking them the same question: What is the first thing you think of when you hear the word ‘homeless?’
“The vast majority of responses were negative,” Cork said. “The only folks that had realistic responses either had been homeless themselves or knew someone who had.”
When Cork, a UT alumna, later left the ARCH, she missed the connection she shared with the residents. She said she just wanted people to care as much about the homeless population as she did but realized that in order for them to care, people would need to know who they are.
With that in mind, she founded Humanize Me, an advocacy project that gives the homeless community a voice by sharing their stories and hosting local events. Since 2014, Cork and Humanize Me volunteers have been posting their interviews with homeless participants online.
In many of them, Cork said their homelessness isn’t even addressed.
“I didn’t want them to feel like they had to define themselves by their housing status,” Cork said. “They’ve had whole lives leading up to this, and they’ll have whole lives after this.”
In an interview with Angel Santiago, he discusses finding and losing love, his Catholic upbringing and his memories of seeing Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix perform. He focuses on his wife Roxanna — his soulmate, his best friend and the woman he said he loved “before [he] ever knew her.”
“The hardest part about staying happy is finding someone to share it with,” Santiago said. “Finding someone to be happy with and get you through the hard times. I had Roxanna, and she taught me how to love. You know, I had dealt with a lot of anger before her. And I was really, truly happy when I was with her. And that’s all I think people should hope for.”
Humanize Me partner Lex Keaton said because the interviews are so different, it makes it easier for readers to relate to them.
“I think anybody would be able to pull something out of [an interview],” Keaton said. “That’s what makes each one very memorable and very unique.”
Cork wants to focus on getting Humanize Me more involved in outreach, but ultimately, she said educating the public on homelessness will make the biggest difference.
While many people may think poverty is the biggest cause of homelessness, Cork said it’s often a combination of factors, making it impossible to predict whether someone will become homeless. “Humanize Me is not unique work, but it’s important work,” Cork said. “Shelter is a basic human need, and regardless of whether or not you have connections with the population, you should just care by default. You should care on a human level.”