What is Lost, is Now Found

Sometimes life has a way of pulling people apart and throwing them under the bus and sometimes it can bring people together in the craziest of ways.

There have been a couple people in my life who have been repeatedly lost and found. Both of them very special to me and life impacting. The loss of both of them caused me many hours of repeated Googling and yes, even some tears as I failed to find them.

One of those people, my high school best friend, I reconnected with again through Facebook the holy grail of connectedness. She actually found me as I guess we had both been looking for each other.

The second of these people was found two nights ago, something I never thought would happen. My dear friend Catherine called me from Boise to tell me that she had found our friend Tim. Tim had been lost years ago and she and I had been Googling him ever since, every few months to see if we could find him.

Tim was one of those people who seemed imposing at first. Intense and lanky and standing at 6'5, he might kind of freak people out if they didn't know him. If you had the honor of getting to know him you quickly found out what an awesome guy he was. He would do anything for his friends and was there for me at times when no one else would.

I lost Tim the first time to meth. A few of my friends, theatre and otherwise, started using recreationally and some of them disappeared into the fog of it, one even died because of it and other addictions. Tim was one of those people who dissappeared. It didn't help that all of us in our group were going our separate (though not permanent) ways.

My ex-husband and I ran into Tim one night at a club. I hadn't seen Tim for quite some time at this point. He was on the edge of despair that night. He had been sober but was about to start using again. Since we were involved in the rave scene at that time we invited him to go to a party with us the next weekend and he said yes. At the time he said the "scene" changed his life and maybe it did in a way. It brought him back into my life for sure.

Later, his life was to change again when his mom died. She had emphyzema and died in his care. That really threw him and he sold the house, took out all of his money (helping lots of people on the way because that's how he is)and hit the road. I figure he was wanting to find himself.

He would send me letters and call every now and again, telling me where he was and what adventure he was having. The letters started worrying me though as it became apparent he was running out of money and finding himself in less than ideal situations. Eventually, the calls and letters stopped. Last I knew Tim was in New Orleans around Katrina. I had received a letter and a pretty necklace about a year before or so and then he was gone. After Katrina I searched and searched for him hoping he was on some survivors list or any kind of list at all.

So Cath calls me and tells me that she had Googled Tim and that she found this website PimpThisBum.com and that our friend Tim is the subject of it. She also said he was all over the news. After our conversation I look and see that she is correct. Tim is all over the AP, CNN even, and yes, the subject of a website called Pimp this Bum.

Can Web site offer homeless man hope?
By MONICA RHOR, Associated Press Writer

Saturday, March 7, 2009

(03-07) 16:49 PST HOUSTON (AP) --

Until a few weeks ago, Tim Edwards was just another one of the men begging for change at a busy Houston underpass, ignored by most drivers who sped on past without a glance.

Now, thanks to an Internet marketing campaign and unlikely allies, Edwards has become the human face of homelessness to thousands of online viewers drawn to his Web site by its deliberately controversial name — Pimp This Bum.

During regular Webcasts, dozens of visitors to www.pimpthisbum.com/ ask questions about Edwards' life and his slow fall from office manager with a home, a car, and a future to an outcast short of hope and with little prospect of help.

The Web site also is a venue where visitors can donate money, services and goods to help Edwards yank himself out of homelessness.

Some homeless advocates say it makes Edwards a victim of exploitation, but the organizers say that edgy tone is what makes the project succeed.

"We wanted to insult people's sensitivities so that they would go to the site and see Tim, and people seem to have fallen in love with him. He's funny and doesn't blame the world for his situation," said Kevin Dolan, 55, a marketing specialist from the Houston suburb of Katy who started the Web site with his 24-year-old son, Sean.

If the site had been called "Help the Homeless," many Web surfers might just have clicked on past, says Sean.

The Dolans had initially set out to test an advertising campaign and generate publicity for their new Internet marketing business. They planned to promote a mom-and-pop business, until Sean suggested using the Web site to do some good.

Now visitors to the Web site are getting to know Edwards beyond the stereotype of an anonymous group labeled "The Homeless."

"I'm the world's first online bum," jokes Edwards, a lanky, bearded 37-year-old who talks about life on the streets with a mix of dark humor and unvarnished honesty. "The whole idea of this project is to get people off the street. I'm the pioneer, but I've got friends behind me. If I don't get this right, it ain't gonna work for them."

The Web site features videos of Edwards and a photograph showing him with a hand-drawn, cardboard sign.

There's a "Donate" button where viewers can charge donations to their credit card. And some people have dropped by Edwards' regular panhandling spot to drop off food and fast-food gift cards — or just to shout hello.

This coming week, Edwards is scheduled to enter an alcohol detox program at the Seattle-based Sunray Treatment and Recovery, which is providing the $13,800, 35-day program free of charge. There are plans to air Webcasts as Edwards goes through the program.

Some homeless advocates say the Web site does little to address the underlying issues of homelessness. Even the name makes Anthony Love bristle.

"He is a person. His name is Tim. And to pimp anyone is not something I would endorse," said Love, president of the Coalition for the Homeless of Houston/Harris County.

The Web site also stirred up an Internet debate over the merits of the Dolans' approach. One blogger named KatDish commented: "Your impassioned pleas for helping Tim get off the street don't hold much weight when you ask him to hold up a sign that says "Pimp this Bum" and let people know he needs a Sharpie and a cheeseburger."

But Edwards says he roared with laughter when Sean Dolan nervously approached him with the idea of the Web site and the proposed name. It was a night in early February when he and several other homeless men were gathered beneath an underpass, "getting drunk like we always do."

At first, he wasn't sure if the Dolans were a threat or just do-gooders bringing food. Now he considers them an answer to a prayer.

"I asked God to make it rain and here come these guys. And I thought this is just crazy enough to work," he said.

Edwards had been mired in homelessness since Aug. 19, 2004 (he remembers the exact date), unable to shake severe alcoholism.

He has become skilled in the art of survival on the street: Keep to your own territory. Beg enough for the bare necessities — food, cigarettes, drink — then get off the corner. Learn who to trust and who to stay away from.

He has seen close friends die from years of addiction, from infections and from simple, intractable hopelessness. And he had come to the edge many times himself, once yearning to lay down and die.

Edwards says he has tried programs aimed at getting the homeless off the streets, but none have worked for him.

"Those programs work for some people, but for some, they don't. We're not 'The Homeless.' Not some monolithic group of people," said Edwards, as he nursed a cigarette and a beer swathed in a brown paper bag. "But this has brought me and my friends a lot of hope. I can't express in words how much hope it's brought us."

Edwards, who says his descent into homelessness began when he "turned his back on God" after the deaths of his mother and grandmother, says he is finally ready to begin detox and find the road back to normalcy. Not just for himself, but for others living on the street.

On Monday, in preparation for his trip to Seattle and his entry into rehab at Sunray, Edwards plans to shave his beard and trim his hair — a symbolic nod to the start of a new life.

It will be broadcast live on the Web site.


PimpThisBum.com employs irony on homeless man's behalf

By Tracy Sabo
CNN Senior Producer

HOUSTON, Texas (CNN) -- When Sean Dolan saw signs being carried by homeless people, he saw an opportunity.

Timothy Edwards was homeless for years in Houston, Texas, until he started carrying "Pimp This Bum" signs.

1 of 2 He and his father wanted to drive people to a Web site, so they created PimpThisBum.com as a marketing tool and gave a homeless man a sign with the Web site's address to hold while panhandling in Houston.

Their idea worked.

Visitors seeing the sign flocked to the site and in less than two months Dolan received $50,000 in donations and pledges through the site for the man, including a five-week alcohol treatment program donated by Sunray Treatment and Recovery based near Seattle, Washington. Watch how 'Pimp this bum' saved man »

"We knew that the same campaign with a sincere appeal and a Web site like helpthehomeless.com would be ignored," he said. "We knew that if we insulted people's sensitivity or appealed to their humor ­ on a subject as sensitive as this we would get their attention."

Kevin Dolan, with more than two decades of marketing and sales experience and his son, Sean, a Web-savvy college student with a small video camera and a passion for volunteer work, got the site off the ground with the help of Timothy Dale Edwards. He has been homeless and living under a busy Houston overpass for more than four years.

The Dolans' offer to Timothy Edwards would be a hard one for any homeless person to refuse: $100 cash per day guaranteed, perhaps even more if the campaign was successful. All Edwards had to do was carry a homemade sign advertising "www.PimpThisBum.com" while he panhandled each day.

For Edwards and his friends it was effortless -- they already carried signs reading, "Homeless, Please help" or "Hungry, Need a days work." Watch Edwards describe "I went through detox" »

And the Dolans promised monetary donations that came into the Web site would go straight to Edwards.
Those who visit can help Edwards directly by donating specific items to him: a cup of coffee, a ham sandwich, a razor, a newspaper subscription or even laser hair removal, karate lessons or a college education.

Edwards welcomes the task and insists he is not being exploited. For him, the donations are a welcome change in his life.

For years drugs and alcohol were his coping mechanisms, he says. He was told his father left the family when he was only 2 years old, and he says he's always felt no one ever cared about him.

But all that changed with the Dolans' offer.

"This is just crazy enough to work," Edwards said. "I'm drinking myself to death under a bridge. I'm watching my friends die left and right, so what have I got to lose?"

Edwards said he has spent years learning whom to trust and how to survive on the street. He's learned where it's safe to sleep and how to panhandle when intersections "are hittin'." Edwards sometimes rides the city bus just to stay warm and gathers a group of homeless friends together to rent a motel room just to be able to take a shower. He says homeless life is "boring, and ... mentally unstimulating," and he looks for ways to keep his brain "active."

"I try to read the paper. One lady came by and asked me if we needed something, so I said, 'Well, do you have a puzzle book?' Because we do crossword puzzles and Sudoku." Edwards said.

Looking back on how he got to this point is difficult.

"It's a pretty drawn-out story. I'd have to say it's probably mostly my fault. ... I made a lot of poor choices," Edwards said, his voice trailing. "I was filthy. I just didn't feel human anymore."

With this new project, Edwards' said, his life has new meaning. The name of the Web site means little to him.

The Dolans have received national attention for their first collaboration, but they also know the site's name is controversial. Edwards said he "cracked up" when Sean Dolan proposed the name for the Web site.

Not everyone thinks it's funny. Homeless advocates and other critics argue the Dolans' project serves little more purpose than exploitation.

Advocate Michael Faenva, who runs a shelter in Dallas, said, "In the end, this isn't a good strategy to address the problem of homelessness. ... It's not a strategy that's likely to bring help to very many."

Life has changed for Edwards since he began holding that sign.

His first step was to shave his beard, mustache and head. The act "was a symbolic act of change, and embracing the change and moving on to a new stage in my life," Edwards said.

His last drink was on March 10, before flying to Seattle accompanied by Sean Dolan to begin the comprehensive alcohol treatment program. He has completed the one-week "detox" program, and is now participating in five additional weeks of individual and group therapy classes.

"To everybody that thinks I am being exploited, I ask you to think again," Edwards said.

Sean Dolan is adamant: "Tim is now a friend." He describes the relationship as "one of the most meaningful friendships I've ever had."

Asked what does he say to the critics? "I tell them to donate ... and get on the Web ... just watch the outflow of support for Tim."

Edwards spends his rehab "free time" each night participating in the Web site's chat room, which is full of supportive messages like, "We love u Tim!," "Hang in there," and "Stay strong, people really do care."

Edwards has started a live nightly Webcast where he answers questions and thanks viewers for their interest and support.

"Rehab is a wonderful thing when you want it," Edwards told CNN during a Webcast. But it's also a lot of work. "The hard part is the mental and psychological stuff, rediscovering myself, so to speak, getting in touch with my heart and my head, and trying to figure out how to deal with life."

Edwards also is getting a crash course on the Internet and hopes it will help him in applying for jobs.

Edwards' newfound Internet outlet also gave him another surprise twist. One of the site's viewers happened to be a family member Edwards never knew. After being put in touch through the Web site's creators, Edwards learned that his father had not left the family as he thought, but instead had been searching for him for almost 35 years.

Edwards said he is learning more about that side of the family, and family members near Kansas City, Missouri, have become involved in looking for new opportunities and living assistance for him when he leaves Seattle.

Kevin Dolan said the project has not only opened new doors for Edwards but also for others like him. The Dolans recently started financial paperwork to create a nonprofit organization, and they hope to duplicate the "PimpThisBum.com" model in other cities. Two future "participants" have already been identified in Houston; one of them is a good friend of Edwards' named John.

On March 28, Edwards will spend his 38th birthday in rehab. He calls the Dolans' project "a blessing." He hopes to complete his treatment successfully, secure a job and find a home.

"I'm tired of laying down," he said. "I'm tired of giving up. ... This life is worth fighting for."

Needless to say, I was shocked. I hadn't searched for Tim since the beginning of the year (something about being immersed in pregnancy) and there he was, unearthed.

Seeing pictures and video of your friend like that is heartbreaking. Cath said she could barely watch it, it was so upsetting. For her it was even difficult to see the Tim we knew under all the grime and hair until you heard his voice, but for me I knew it was him right away. She was right about his voice though. Who he is shone through the rough exterior even in this most terrible of situations.

Tim is now 5 months sober, something I'm so very proud of and today marks his anniversary of homelessness. How he got there in the first place I'm not quite sure and I haven't asked yet. Somehow his wanderlust and adventure turned a wrong corner into despair and addiction. But, hopefully, he will continue to do well. I hope this anniversary isn't one to remind him of what was but help show him how far he has come. Cath and I will be celebrating with him virtually through his webcast tonight and hopefully supporting him as he had supported us in the past.

I love you Tim and I am so proud of you and all you have accomplished. You, my friend, are one of those people who are gold to those who love you.


Serendipite said...

((HUGS)) Some people burn themselves into your memory because they are so incredible. I hope Tim continues on his current path - it is obvious he is capable of great, great things.

shawnandlarissa said...

Wow. What an unlikely way to find an old friend. I hope that his current road continues to good things.

May T said...

That's incredible. I've heard so many stories about him and this is just amazing. Thank God.