Jennie Jasperson and Chloe Chang, high school students helping the homeless
One bag of basic essentials in exchange for one story. That’s all it takes to be a part of the Happy Homeless Project, a senior project started by Jennie Jasperson and Chloe Chang. The two C.K. McClatchy High School students started the social media experiment in December, and, with the help of community donations, have been handing out kits filled with socks, travel-sized hygiene products, snacks and water ever since.
How did you two begin doing this?
Jennie Jasperson: Well, it was actually Chloe’s idea originally.
Chloe Chang: Before we started doing this before the senior project, my sister and I actually saw the idea online to make bags and pass them out to the homeless. … We didn’t end up passing out that many, but I saw that I could expand it as a senior project. Another huge source of inspiration was—do you know the Humans of New York account?
Yeah, I love that account.
Chang: Well, I really liked what they did with their account, so I was thinking of combining that idea, and I know that Sacramento is one of the worst cities when it comes to homeless population in the state, so …
Has there been a lot of traffic on your Instagram and Wordpress accounts?
Chang: The Instagram account has 40 followers, so it’s not on Humans of New York’s level yet. They’re actually most of our schoolmates who are interested. I feel like the blog has gotten more attention.
Jasperson: I noticed that after I shared it, then over a couple of days, we got over 100 views to our blog, which is really cool. We weren’t expecting to get that many because it’s not that big of a project.
What type of questions do you ask?
Chang: We don’t really have to ask questions, we just say that we’re doing a project and we want to hear your stories. It can be long, short, happy, sad, funny or really traumatic.
Jasperson: We just ask them to share an experience. We always mention that it doesn’t have to be about how you became homeless or what your experiences are like on the streets. It can be about anything in your life. If they are willing to share, then they always find something to share with us.
Any funny stories?
Jasperson: They don’t really tell us any funny stories, but they’re just funny.
Chang: Yeah, you can just tell that a lot of people are really happy out there. Not necessarily happy with their situation, but they’ve retained their liveliness.
Jasperson: Yeah, they make jokes with us, and they laugh. So it’s not like every single person we meet has this depressing, heart-wrenching story.
How have your experiences been so far?
Chang: It’s really overwhelming to see how massive the population of homeless people in Sacramento is, so every time we go out, we always see a new group of people.
Jasperson: Yeah, we never see the same face twice.
Chang: Even if we’re in the same area. With he people we’ve talked to, there’s just so many, like—it just opens up your eyes that a lot of the reasons why they’re homeless aren’t really their fault, and it could happen to anyone.
What’s the story that you’ve heard that has hit you the most?
Jasperson: [A man named Rodney] said something about how he had daughters, and when they were younger, he wasn’t really in their lives. Several years later, when they had grown up, he went to find them again, and he said that when his daughters saw him, they just asked him, “Where were you, Dad? Why weren’t you there for us?” That really touched me, just thinking that I wouldn’t know what I would do if my dad wasn’t here for me as I’m growing up. So that story really, really touched me in just how life is hard and maybe it wasn’t his fault that he couldn’t be there for his daughters. But it affected more than just his life. It totally changed his daughters’ lives, too.
What do you want people to take away from this project?
Chang: I guess we just want to humanize homeless people more and bring light to them. Like, this one guy we talked to, he said that he grew up in the suburbs with a really nice family. And I remember at the end, he said, “I guess I just grew up too spoiled.” So, I’m just hoping a lot of people can just see a little bit of themselves in stories like that.
Jasperson: Yeah, just being able to not look at the homeless as a group, but seeing them as individuals. I guess that’s the biggest thing that we hope other people will see too.