Help One Homeless Person While at WPPI – Billy

Right now as I write this blog post, over 11.000 photographers from around the world are bearing down on Las Vegas for the annual WPPI Expo. I’m hoping those of you who are part of that mob of people that read this will be moved to take action.


All around you are forgotten people. People who have broken lives. (Then again, which of us doesn’t have some kind of brokenness in our life?). Lives that for one reason or another lead them to living on the streets. Homeless. Destitute. We pass these people every day. Sometimes we see them. Sometimes we don’t. But trust me. They are there. When we do see them, it’s not uncommon for our internal response to be any one of the following:

  • I wish I could help, but I got to get to…
  • I’d love to give her something, but I don’t have anything smaller than a $20.
  • If I did give him money, how do I know he’ll use it for food and not drugs or alcohol?
  • Why don’t they just get a job?
  • I can’t carry the burdens of the world. I have my own problems.

I guarantee that if you’ve ever passed a homeless person on the street, chances are you thought one of these thoughts. I know I have.

It’s ironic when you think about it. All around me are thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of people literally throwing their money away. Sitting in front of slot machines like brainless automatons. Casting dice. Fanning cards. Being suckered by multi-billion dollar corporations to give them more and more money. Yet, those same people, those ones who just threw away $100, $500, $1,000 or more at the craps table, can’t give two bits to the person on the street.

This week, as I’ve passed homeless on the streets of Vegas, I’ve found it hard to turn away. I’ve resorted to stopping and giving what little change I have in my pocket. Every little bit counts. Right?

But I think they need more than that.  I think more than not having food or shelter, they lack dignity. Every day thousands and thousands of people pass them on the streets and don’t even acknowledge their existence.  It pains me to write that I’ve been one of those people. That I could pass a hurt, cold, lonely person on the sidewalk and act no different than if I had just walked by a pigeon, or a dog. (Actually, I bet if someone saw a cold, hurt, homeless dog they’d feel more compassion than if they saw a person). I feel ashamed.

Today I decided to take it to the next level. As I crossed over from New York, New York to my luxurious room at the ever so opulent Excalibur (yes, that’s sarcasm), I ran into Billy. She had a rather homely look. Sad eyes. Staring straight ahead with her sign asking for help and “God Bless.” I gave her the last dollar in my wallet and walked on. But, then, I felt compelled to walk back. I asked her how she got this way and she said she lost her job. She commented on how some people have judged her by yelling out to her, “Get a job!” Well,” she said, “I had a job. They don’t know my story!”

I asked her where she sleeps at night, and she said that if she raises enough during the day, she’ll get a room. Otherwise, she’ll go wherever. She’s ultimately wants to get another job and raise enough money to get back to her son, Brenden, whom she sent to live with parents in OK.

I asked her if it would be okay for me to pray for her and she let me. I said goodbye and left. Wishing I could do more.


Then I had this crazy idea. I know a few of you out there who read this blog may be in Vegas this week. I want to ask a favor of you. Seek out Billy. She’s on the bridge between NY, NY and Excalibur. Today she was wearing a gray sweatshirt. She has stringy brown hair and glasses held together on the right side by scotch tape. I ask that you take 10-15 minutes out of your day, find her, and give her some money. Or, just say hi. Make her feel like a human being. Or go pray with her if you’re so inclined. If you can’t find her, I’m almost 99% positive you’ll see another homeless on one of the two bridges leading from the MGM to Excalibur. Whatever time or money you would have given to Billy, give to some other person.

And for the rest of us, out and about, the next time you see a homeless person, even if you don’t want to give them  money, try stopping and talking to them. Find out their story. You may be surprised.

5 thoughts on “Help One Homeless Person While at WPPI – Billy

  1. My husband and I used to do outreach with homeless kids but it can be so heartbreaking to hear the stories. On top of being forgotten many places basically make it illegal to be homeless or even to help the homeless. Thank you for creating this awareness. I'm sure that all of us who read this will approach each day and each encounter with a different perspective.

  2. I am following your blog quietly and just wanted to say a warm “thank you” for publishing your thoughts the way you do. They are often really inspiring. I used to be like you said… why giving? It does not help… rather it encourages to beg. I was traveling to Africa quite often. One day a boy passed me by with a terrible disability or disease. I don't even know what it was. His face was blown like a balloon. He asked for change. And as always I only passed by… or maybe I said “no” I don't remember. But afterwards I felt so ashamed. And still I do. Not only for not giving something. But also for having the attitude that it is best NOT to give. That was 2007, I think. From that day on I try to contact beggars or at least give something to them. I so wish I could return to that boy! I am sure he is dead by now. But I won't forget him.

  3. Wow Konrad. Thanks for sharing that touching story. Many of us have times orplaces we wish we could go back to and re-live. A do-over as they say. But,the past is the past. We can learn from it and make a difference for thefuture. Thanks.

  4. Great reminder, Ron. My family has started creating what we call homeless bags. They're simply brown paper lunch bags we've filled with assorted food, water, and tracts. We no longer do the whole shameful “avoid all eye contact” thing at stoplights and eagerly look for people to help. I pray that God would continue to mold our hearts after His and give us a love for all people!

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