During the filming of a story about chronic homelessness (link below), Anderson Cooper met a lot of people who live on the street. He got to know many of them on a personal level, which made him aware that he didn’t even acknowledge a homeless person in his own neighborhood.
I certainly am more aware now when I see people down on their luck. It’s easy to do the big city thang and just walk on by, no eye contact, nothing to see here. But as Cooper says: "This is my issue. Me pretending not to see this person is insane. It's offensive."
Narrator: Overtime Editor, Ann Silvio, talks with CNN's Anderson Cooper.
Anderson: So, how do you think you ended up on the street?
Homeless Man 1: I really don't know. I messed up. Somewhere, I messed up. Yeah.
Ann: Many people have, sort of, a visceral reaction to homeless people. Does that disappear for you, while you're working on a story like this and talking to those people?
Anderson: it does. It really changes your perception of the problem with homelessness and the people who end up being homeless. We all have support networks. We all have family, friends, a job, and things that support us when we trip. These are people who have burned through those support networks. That's really the only difference.
Andy: This story focuses on people who are homeless for long periods of time, chronically homeless people.
Female Reporter 1: What is the total length of time that you've been unhoused?
Homeless Woman: It's like going on two years now.
Andy: I'm Andy Court, and I'm a producer at 60 Minutes. This story was unusual in so many ways. You get up at 3:00 in the morning, you're going out with these outreach teams...
Outreach Team Member: Outreach. Knock! Knock! Anybody home this morning?
Ann: Why at 3:00 in the morning?
Andy: They want to make sure they are really helping the people who are truly homeless. If you're sleeping outside at 3:00 in the morning, you're really homeless.
Outreach Team Member: When was the last time you slept inside?
Homeless Man 2: Oh, a motel. I go into a motel, during the wintertime, for about three months.
Outreach Team Member: How do you pay for that?
Homeless Man 2: by sleeping outside during the summertime. Social Security.
Outreach Team Member: and you were born in Nashville?
Homeless Man 2: Right.
Outreach Team Member: OK.
Andy: Nashville's a very popular tourist town. I saw very few of those places. We saw parts of Nashville that no tourist has ever seen.
Production Team Member: We'd love a chance to sit down and talk to you, if we could put you on camera.
Homeless Man 2: Yeah, well nah.
Outreach Team Member: You don't want on camera?
Homeless Man 2: No.
Outreach Team Member: Okay.
Ann: Tell me about the trek you took, through the underbelly of Nashville.
Anderson: Just the sheer variety of places, where people where. I mean, under railroad tracks, literally sleeping under railroad tracks, under bridge trestles.
Production Team Member: Yeah, careful. It's really slick guys.
Anderson: We were in caves. We were in woods. We were in camps just off railroad tracks.
Production Team Member: It looks like three active camp sites. It looks like they're cleared out.
Andy: I remember there's this one moment, we're walking backwards, under railroad tracks, filming. I'm holding a light.
Production Team Member: You can help people, because they have a good story, or you can choose to help either way.
Anderson: Will somebody watch his back?
Andy: There's a drop-off on one side and a drop-off on the other side, and I remember thinking, "I hope a train isn't coming right now, because I'm not sure what we would do". There were a lot of moments like that. There were so many people we met, who blew us away for various reasons.
Homeless Man 3: I lost my job, but I'll get a sweet pension when I turn 59.
Homeless Man 3: Yes.
Andy: You won't be homeless then?
Homeless Man 3: Yes, right. It's nine years away, though.
Andy: Do you think you'll make it?
Homeless Man 3: I'm not sure.
Andy: We met this guy under an overpass. He was living outside. He told us he had Parkinson's Disease. He said, "It's really hard for me to walk around, sometimes I feel like I'm going to collapse". We just filmed him a little bit, watching him try to cross the street. I'll never forget it, because you could just see how hard it was for this guy to cross the street. I thought, "How on earth does this guy survive out there?"
The homeless find these places that no one else wants. There so far in, no one would ever want to go there. It can't be developed, so we met people who said they were living there for ten years, in a tent.
Homeless Man 4: We have to carry water in. Using mostly wood for your cooking.
Andy: They, kind of, live off the grid, really off the grid.
Andy: How long have you been homeless?
Homeless Man 5: Well, the government says I've been homeless 20 years.
Andy: we asked him why?
Homeless Man 5: drugs.
Anderson: you know, you're asking very personal questions. I think we were surprised at how upfront people where, and how honest people where, and how people seemed to appreciate just you talking to them, like a regular person.
Production Team Member: I like your paintings, too. How long does it take you to do that?
Homeless Man 6: about a week.
Ann: Amazing that he had a studio in the forest.
Andy: He had an easel, he had the paints, and he wasn't bad. He just didn't have a home.
Do you blame society at all?
Homeless Man 4: No. Why? It's not their fault. It's not. I put myself in most of this pickle. You make your bed, you lie in it. That's the saying.
Andy: You can't help wondering what happened to all these people. I interviewed so many people.
Homeless Woman 2: Andy, nice to meet you.
Andy: Nice to meet you. How you doing?
Daryl: Hi, I'm Daryl.
Andy: Where are they? They're out there somewhere right now.
Anderson: So many people walk by homeless people, all the time. I've done it. You pretend you don't see them. There's a homeless guy, that camps right outside my house, actually. It was interesting, because I noticed, before the story, he really annoyed me. You know, he's panhandling. After the story, I asked him his name. I say hello to him. I talk to him.
Ann: Did you ever interact with him, before the story?
Anderson: No. I just ignored him. I pretended he wasn't there. After the story, I'm like, this is ridiculous. This is my issue; me pretending not to see this person is insane and offensive. It humanizes people. I think, anytime you stop and talk to somebody and you learn about them, you start to walk in their shoes a little bit. You see things through a different lens.