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University of Washington graduate’s selfless efforts benefiting the homeless

Volunteers load boxes of sleeping bags for the nonprofit Sleepless in Seattle. (Contributed)
LISTEN: University of Washington graduate's selfless efforts benefiting the homeless

“Sleepless in Seattle” is a beloved romantic comedy about finding love, but the title has taken on a new meaning for a recent University of Washington graduate who decided he could no longer ignore the homeless.

“There was a moment where I was walking back from the gym at UW and I realized everything I did in my life was for myself,” Eddie Wang said.

So, he decided to try something different.

“I went off to the streets and met the homeless person I saw and ended up spending two hours with them just getting to know their story,” Wang said.

Related: Seattle homeless director speaks out about issue plaguing the city

You know the saying “walk a mile in my shoes?” It turns out that Wang, through stories, was sort of doing that and it changed his perspective on the homeless.

“I remember one guy I met he told me he’d gone through 20 foster home placements by the time he was 18. And I compared that to my life, you know, I come from a nuclear family with a mom and a dad who both loved me and cared for me. It’s not rocket science why I was in college and he wasn’t,” Wang reflected.

So how do you use that privilege for good? As it turns out all that privilege created the perfect intersection in life for Wang to exercise his concern for the homeless. Not only is he a man of deep Christian faith, he also graduated UW with a degree in economics and social work. The answer, for him, became that the homeless needed sleeping bags.

“So I’ve always kind of come at things from an Economies of Scale perspective of how can we serve the most people in the most efficient manner? And it seemed like it was a really practical need that was met by the general public and so I just went for it and it worked out,” Wang said.

“Worked out” is an understatement. The first year Sleepless in Seattle launched, in 2014, Wang decided to crowdsource his fundraising and brought in $75,000. The next year, he raised $90,000.

He partners with retailers and nonprofits to maximize his money and purchases sleeping bags at wholesale. Hundreds of volunteers join him each year for the one-day “Big Give,” including high school students who write notes of encouragement to be delivered with care packages.

Wang says not all sleeping bags are donated through the Big Give. What truly touches him is the dignity with which some of the homeless accept the handout.

“Two volunteers came back and give me a dollar. They told me that as they were going out and handing out these sleeping bags, the people that received them actually opened up their wallets and gave them the money they had to pay it forward and I was just struck by that sense of comradery, generosity, compassion that they carried. For me, that was a powerful, humbling learning experience,” Wang said.

But you might wonder, just like I did, can’t $90,000 be spent on something bigger than sleeping bags to help with the homeless crisis?

“You know, it’s a Band-Aid to stop a gaping wound and I’ll be the first to admit that this isn’t solving homelessness. Really it’s trying to show people who might not generally feel acknowledged or cared for that there are people in this community that are fighting for them, that care for them, who are willing to stand up for them,” Wang said.

He was shy about talking politics but did acknowledge that he supports city-sanctioned encampments to at least try and boost the quality of life for the homeless until the city can come up with a more permanent solution.

“For me, I think that my life has been truly enriched by just developing relationships with people who don’t look like me, who are at a different place of life than me, I think it really expands our perspective and adds a lot of hope and meaning to life,” Wang said.

This year, Sleepless in Seattle will be handing out sleeping bags, sleeping mats and care packages on Nov. 19.

Wang is using to raise money setting a goal this year of $60,000.

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