Justin Doering is traveling the country documenting the stories of a group that’s often overlooked in America and around the world — homeless people. It’s an idea the recent college graduate came up with as a 16-year-old living in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. His journey from coast to coast and back again is called “Fifty Sandwiches.” He’s making the trip of about 13,000 miles in a van he bought on Craigslist.
“I’ve always had interest in homelessness,” Doering said. “I really like writing and I’m really interested in social issues and the issues that affect everyday people day to day.” His project is an effort to humanize the homeless.
Sharing a sandwich with Doering is the one thing the people he’s interviewing will all have in common, hence the name “Fifty Sandwiches.” He’s expected to talk with about 100 to 150 people in dozens of cities across the U.S. Doering is sharing their stories on his blog and Facebook page throughout his trip. The rest will be put into a book.
“I’ll probably handpick fifty interviews I feel like represent a good variety and diversity of the homeless population just to really show there’s not one blanket stereotype that you can place on this group of people,” he said. “Just like there wouldn’t be with any other people.”
His first stop was in Seattle, Washington. One person who stood out the most is a man named Scooby, 25. Doering said Scooby spends several days a week he helps others who need it. He picks up garbage and cleans up dumpsters around his community.
Scooby told Doering that he wants to be a part of the community.
“I am out here by choice, and I am here to learn,” Scooby said to Doering. “People may see us doing the same thing every day, but it is unfathomable what I have learned from human nature.”
Doering is working with local shelters to find people to interview and he’s also approaching people on the street. So far he’s been successful.
“I’ve been amazed by how willing strangers on the street are willing to talk about their lives and open up and share their personal stories,” Doering said. “I think one of the reasons for that is because it’s a sect of society that is completely ignored for the most part. They have people walking by them every day just turning a blind eye. I think to have someone pay them attention and someone offer a channel or medium to share their voice to the people means a lot to them as with any person.”
Doering compares “Fifty Sandwiches” to “Humans of New York,” a photography project that Brandon Stanton began in 2010 and has now culminated into two bestselling books.
“He connected strangers that pass by each other on the street every single day and he connected them on an emotional level by sharing their stories. That’s exactly what I want to do except with a part of society that’s ignored and shunned by much of the common folk.”
Doering raised $10,000 through a Kickstarter campaign in May. The money won’t be going to hotel rooms because he’ll be sleeping in his van and camping whenever he can. Doering also put in hundreds of hours of planning before he began on Aug. 12. Other cities he plans to visit include Salem, Oregon, Redding, California, and Denver, Colorado.
“I was a little weary and a little nervous about talking to some of the people that I’ve interviewed,” Doering said. “But so far I’ve learned to an overwhelming extent that my predisposition that I kind of guessed at that there’s no common stereotype, there’s no common face to homelessness and that everyone has these different backgrounds is true.”
To follow Doering’s trip, visit fiftysandwiches.com