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Bridging The Gap Between The Housed and The Homeless, One 'Hello' At A Time

Rex Hohlbine
Facing Homelesness
Jennifer Underwood and her daughter Rory, standing in front of their camper van.


One way to get a different view and to exit your comfort zone is to trade the warm and dry home you live in for a camper van that will take you around the country to meet and help the homeless. You'll also bring your nine-year-old along for this adventure.


This is what Jennifer Underwood of Seattle is doing with her daughter, Rory. They are on a national tour called, “Just Say Hello.”


“Just Say Hello” is also the name of a campaign that started here in Seattle by the nonprofit, Facing Homelessness. The goal is to break down the barriers between the homeless and the housed and to build empathy.


“It starts with not looking away from the person you’re driving past on the on ramp, or [seeing at] the grocery store — and just sending that person love and a smile and a simple hello is often times so empowering and impactful to that person in their day and what they’re struggling with,” said Underwood before she started the trip in July.


Underwood and her daughter are traveling for about four months, volunteering in soup kitchens and shelters along the way. So far they’ve been to several cities including New York, Portland, Boulder, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Savannah, Georgia.


“Walking through the streets of New York, one of the things that just hit me is how much people want to go back home,” said Underwood in an audio diary she shared with 88.5 knkx.


“One of the guys that we talked to, he was sitting down on the sidewalk and people were just moving around him. And as we were talking, it was weird to stand above him, so we just sat down on the sidewalk next to him.”


Underwood said it amazed her how uncomfortable this made other people.


One of Underwood’s goals on this trip is to get her daughter, Rory, to move out of her comfort zone while also trying to respect her boundaries.


“She’s shy and it’s really hard for her to say hello and it’s scary to say hi to people who are homeless and walk along the streets and approach strangers," said Underwood. "It goes against everything that she’s ever done and everything she’s been told.”

Underwood says Rory is getting past her fear. When Underwood and Rory return to Seattle in November, Underwood plans to write a book about their experience. She’d like her daughter to be a leader and a role model who might be able to inspire more kids to volunteer and help the homeless living in their communities.  

Originally aired September 17, 2016

Jennifer Wing is a former KNKX reporter and producer who worked on the show Sound Effect and Transmission podcast.