The Story Of 'We Are All Homeless'—The Dallas Artist Who Buys Signs From Homeless People

The Story Of 'We Are All Homeless'—The Dallas Artist Who Buys Signs From Homeless People

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When Willie Baronet sees a homeless person holding a sign that says “Homeless traveling man – please help,” he doesn’t follow the instincts of most passersby, looking away uncomfortably and walking faster. Instead, he makes an offer and a conversation.

Baronet, an artist and professor residing in Dallas, buys handmade signs from homeless people as part of an ongoing project titled “We Are All Homeless.” If they agree to sell their sign to him, he asks them to set the price. Most of them don’t ask for much—their costs almost always fall between $10 to $20.

Baronet came up with the idea of “We Are All Homeless” in 1993 as a graduate student. As he often caught himself not making eye contact with homeless people, he sought a way to confront his discomfort. It's an uneasiness and what seems like embarrassment that is shared by many of those who have never experienced homelessness. “This was a way for me to start a conversation,” says Baronet. “It was a way for me to change the dynamic between us.”

In July 2014, he and three of his friends embarked on a 24-day journey throughout the United States, getting to know vagabonds throughout the nation while shooting a documentary outlining his experiences through the course of this project. From city to city, Baronet talked to homeless people, asking to buy their signs and have them speak on camera. More than half agreed. Some declined, citing vanity and privacy as reasons for their reticence.

“We Are All Homeless” continues to teach Baronet much about both the people who he talks to and himself. People open up to him, telling him about their experiences from a homeless perspective and revealing how they came to be in those situations. A few admitted that they were on the run–sometimes from domestic violence situations, Baronet guesses. Hearing so many stories, he’s found that, “There are a lot of sad stories.”

Baronet foresees himself continuing this project “for as long as I live, apparently.” Previous exhibitions created in relation to “We Are All Homeless” include settings where homeless signs covered the floor, forcing visitors to walk on them, or where interactive surfaces invited people to write what “home” meant to them.

On January 21, another installation will be exhibited at Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The journey is far from over. Baronet plans to incorporate homeless signs into quilt patterns, jewelry designs, and picture books outlining different meanings of home.

To him, it’s still about seeking new ways to present these signs to people and to appeal to their discomfort long enough for them to step back, confront, and understand.

“It’s not about whether we have a house or not,” he says. “I believe we all have human issues. It’s easy to want to say 'there’s the homeless and there are the people with homes.' And the truth is, we’re all the same. We’re all together.”

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An Open Letter to the Person Who Still Uses the "R Word"

Your negative associations are slowly poisoning the true meaning of an incredibly beautiful, exclusive word.
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What do you mean you didn't “mean it like that?" You said it.

People don't say things just for the hell of it. It has one definition. Merriam-Webster defines it as, "To be less advanced in mental, physical or social development than is usual for one's age."

So, when you were “retarded drunk" this past weekend, as you claim, were you diagnosed with a physical or mental disability?

When you called your friend “retarded," did you realize that you were actually falsely labeling them as handicapped?

Don't correct yourself with words like “stupid," “dumb," or “ignorant." when I call you out. Sharpen your vocabulary a little more and broaden your horizons, because I promise you that if people with disabilities could banish that word forever, they would.

Especially when people associate it with drunks, bad decisions, idiotic statements, their enemies and other meaningless issues. Oh trust me, they are way more than that.

I'm not quite sure if you have had your eyes opened as to what a disabled person is capable of, but let me go ahead and lay it out there for you. My best friend has Down Syndrome, and when I tell people that their initial reaction is, “Oh that is so nice of you! You are so selfless to hang out with her."

Well, thanks for the compliment, but she is a person. A living, breathing, normal girl who has feelings, friends, thousands of abilities, knowledge, and compassion out the wazoo.

She listens better than anyone I know, she gets more excited to see me than anyone I know, and she works harder at her hobbies, school, work, and sports than anyone I know. She attends a private school, is a member of the swim team, has won multiple events in the Special Olympics, is in the school choir, and could quite possibly be the most popular girl at her school!

So yes, I would love to take your compliment, but please realize that most people who are labeled as “disabled" are actually more “able" than normal people. I hang out with her because she is one of the people who has so effortlessly taught me simplicity, gratitude, strength, faith, passion, love, genuine happiness and so much more.

Speaking for the people who cannot defend themselves: choose a new word.

The trend has gone out of style, just like smoking cigarettes or not wearing your seat belt. It is poisonous, it is ignorant, and it is low class.

As I explained above, most people with disabilities are actually more capable than a normal human because of their advantageous ways of making peoples' days and unknowingly changing lives. Hang out with a handicapped person, even if it is just for a day. I can one hundred percent guarantee you will bite your tongue next time you go to use the term out of context.

Hopefully you at least think of my friend, who in my book is a hero, a champion and an overcomer. Don't use the “R Word". You are way too good for that. Stand up and correct someone today.

Cover Image Credit: Kaitlin Murray

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To Fix Taxes, We Have To Rethink 'Wealthy'

"Wealthy" doesn't mean the same for everyone.

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When discussing taxes today, so many politicians are quick to rush to the adage "tax the rich." Bernie Sanders has called for the rich to be taxed higher to pay for Medicare for All. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has called for a 70% tax on the wealthy.

However, all of these proposals are missing a key thing: a true definition of rich.

When thinking about what counts as rich, it is important to distinguish between the "working wealthy" and the "investment wealthy."

The working wealthy are the people in society that get paid highly because they have a high skill set and provide an extremely valuable service that they deserve just compensation for. This class is made up of professionals like lawyers, doctors, and CEOs. In addition, the working wealthy are characterized by another crucial aspect: over a long term calculation of their earned income over time, they don't come out as prosperous as their annual incomes would seem to suggest. This is because this set of the wealthy has to plunge into student debt for degrees that take years to acquire. These jobs generally also require a huge amount of time invested in lower-paying positions, apprenticeships, and internships before the big-money starts coming in.

On the other hand, the investment wealthy is completely different. These are the people that merely sit back and manipulate money without truly contributing to anything in society. A vast majority of this class is born into money and they use investments into stocks and bonds as well as tax loopholes to generate their money without actually contributing much to society as a whole.

What makes the investment wealthy so different from the working wealthy is their ability to use manipulative techniques to avoid paying taxes. While the working wealthy are rich, they do not have AS many resources or connections to manipulate tax laws the way that the investment wealthy can. The investment wealthy has access to overseas banking accounts to wash money though. The investment wealthy can afford lawyers to comb over tax laws and find loopholes for ridiculous prices. This is tax evasion that the working wealthy simply does not have access to.

That is why it is so incredibly important to make sure that we distinguish between the two when discussing tax policy. When we use blanket statements like "tax the rich," we forget the real reasons that the investment wealthy are able to pay such low taxes now. Imposing a larger marginal tax rate will only give them more incentive to move around taxes while squeezing the working wealthy even more.

Because of this, in our taxation discourse, we need to focus first on making sure people pay their taxes, to begin with. Things like a tax of Wall Street speculation, capital gains taxes, a closing of loopholes, and a simplification of the tax code. These things will have a marked improvement in making sure that the investment wealthy actually pays the taxes we already expect of them now. If we stick to the same message, the only thing we will be changing is the rate that the uber-wealthy are avoiding.

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