A man traveled cross-country to interview homeless people. This is what he learned.

"I’m a very sad man now that she’s gone," Leroy explained. He'd been at his wife's side the moment she died of a heart attack. "I wish I could have saved her."

Leroy, a U.S. veteran, said he'd been doing well staying sober up until that tragedy struck a few months ago. Now he's back on the streets of New Orleans, once again battling alcoholism and homelessness.

Photo courtesy of Justin Doering/Fifty Sandwiches.


"I don’t have anything from her, no pictures, nothing," he said. "[Her] landlord set everything out on the sidewalk and thieves took it all."

Leroy's story is one of many featured by Fifty Sandwiches, a series documenting people experiencing homelessness across the country through stories and photos.

The project was created by Justin Doering, a recent college graduate from Idaho, who raised enough funds on Kickstarter last year to travel solo coast to coast in his van. 34 states and 14,000 miles later, Doering had photographed 78 homeless people and heard their stories.

Photo courtesy of Justin Doering/Fifty Sandwiches.

While traveling, Doering found participants on the streets, in recovery programs, and staying in shelters. He shared meals with them, and in turn, they shared their stories.

Here are five people Doering spoke to during his travels:

1. Stephanie, a 25-year-old living in Texas, who simply wants to be understood.

"I became homeless when I lost my father in 2009 to cancer," she told him. "I was really close with him and that hurt a lot."

Photo courtesy of Justin Doering/Fifty Sandwiches.

"[My dog] is for my Autism. I have high-functioning Autism on the Asperger’s side of the spectrum. It affects your socialization skills, but it affects me mostly emotionally.
***
I wish people would be more understanding to be able to help people like us. All they really say to us is to go get a job. That doesn’t help us. Most job places won’t give us work."

2. Lee, an artist in Venice Beach, California, who speaks out for social justice.

"If we continue to hate each other over skin color, the world will fucking crumble," Lee told Doering. "They say be the change that you want to see. That’s what I’m trying to do."

Photo courtesy of Justin Doering/Fifty Sandwiches.

"People are like ‘I love your hair,’ ‘I love your outfit,' if that’s what you love then what do you really love? When people ask me how I am in the morning, do they really want to know?"

3. Ian from Oregon, who's fighting to get past a turbulent childhood and a family that hadn't accepted him.

"I had a home but I was worried because I was insecure with my own sexuality," Ian said. "I had an idea in my head that there was pressure on me to have a wife and kids. I realized I was homosexual when I was younger but I suppressed a lot of it."

Photo courtesy of Justin Doering/Fifty Sandwiches.

"In my Christian family, I was raised with this idea that I was bad, morally wrong, and that lead me to think I had something seriously wrong with me psychologically. What is so wrong [with] me and why didn’t I think like the rest of my family?"

4. Sheila from Sacramento, who was motivated to turn her life around after living through the devastating death of her dog.

"As we drove to the river and I saw where the smoke was, I already knew," she said. "It was my [homeless] camp. It was my [dog] JJ. Two years of being on the river, and the only days I tie him up there is a fire."

Photo courtesy of Justin Doering/Fifty Sandwiches.

"It had to take my dogs death to realize I didn’t want to be homeless anymore. Cause it could’ve been me.
***
At Saint John’s, I’m six months and eight days clean and sober. It’s a wonderful feeling. It’s an amazing feeling. ... When I move on from here, I’m going to the pound and getting another rescue dog too."

5. Wendell in Atlanta, Georgia, who's learning how to live with a mental illness.

"I have a history of bipolar depression," Wendell explained. "I can’t use that as an excuse [for abusing drugs], I can’t blame anything. ... Bipolar depression is like being down in the pits and there’s no way to get out."

Photo courtesy of Justin Doering/Fifty Sandwiches.

"I had an abusive childhood. I grew up without a father and guys around the neighborhood knew that and took advantage of it. I was beaten up. I was molested. That was just what ‘growing up’ was for me. ... I’ve been clean six months now. I’m taking it one day at a time. I’m back in my own family again, I’m speaking with my kids. That gives me a lot of encouragement."

"Each interview left me in awe of their story," Doering says, a reminder why every individual voice matters.

Having been interested in the issue for years, the 22-year-old thought he understood the complexities of homelessness relatively well. But after speaking to dozens of folks from a wide variety of backgrounds and reasons for ending up without a home, he realized he couldn't possibly "capture a collective face to homelessness" from just one trip across the country.

"Each story was far too distinct from one another to categorize as an entire subset of the culture," he says. And that's the whole point: People experiencing homelessness can't be boxed into a few stereotypes; they're as diverse and deserving of our love and support as anyone else.

He hopes Fifty Sandwiches helps close "the gap between the perception and the reality of homelessness." After all, no one should be defined by their housing situation, and most of the people he talked to didn't start out homeless. "I felt it would be important to share their stories and give a voice to a population whose cries often go unheard," Doering says.

"I ended every single interview asking the question, 'If you could give any advice to the public in their treatment of homeless people, what would it be?'" Doering explains. "The overwhelming response was along the lines of, 'Treat us like we are people.'"

You can read more stories and learn about Fifty Sandwiches on the project's website.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

via The BC Cancer Foundation

Testicular cancer typically affects men between the ages of 16 and 44 and is the most common solid tumor to occur in men of this age group. These tumors grow rapidly and can double in size in just 10 to 30 days.

The disease is potentially fatal if not discovered early and accounts for about 11%-13% of all cancer deaths of men between the ages of 15-35. An estimated 9,60 people were diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2020, resulting in around 440 deaths.

So it's incredibly important for people with testicles to check themselves regularly.

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2020 was difficult (to say the least). The year was full of life changes, losses, and lessons as we learned to navigate the "new normal." You may have questions about what the changes and challenges of 2020 mean for your taxes. That's where TurboTax Live comes in, making it easy to connect with real tax experts to help with your taxes – or even do them for you, start to finish.

Not only has TurboTax Live helped millions of people get their taxes done right, but this year they've also celebrated people who uplifted their communities during a difficult time by surprising them with "little lifts" to help out even more.

Here are a few of their stories:


Julz, hairdresser and salon owner

"As a hairdresser and salon owner, 2020 was extremely challenging," says Julz. "Being a hairdresser has historically been a recession-proof industry, but we've never faced global shut down due to health risk, or pandemic, not in my lifetime. And for the first time, hairdressers didn't have job security."

Julz had to shut down her salon and go on unemployment benefits for the first time. She also had to figure out how she was going to support herself, her staff and her business during this difficult time. But many other beauty industry professionals didn't have access to the resources they needed, so Julz decided to help.

"My business partner and I began teaching basic financial literacy to other beauty industry professionals," she says. "Transitioning our business from behind the chair to an online academy was a challenge we tackled head-on so that we could move hairdressers into this new space of education, and create a more accessible curriculum to better serve our industry.

Julz connected with a TurboTax Live expert who helped her understand how unemployment affected her taxes and gave her guidance on filing quarterly estimated taxes for her small business. "I was terrified to sit at a computer and tackle this mess of receipts," Julz says, so "it was great to have some virtual handholding to walk me through each question."

In addition to giving Julz the personalized tax advice she needed, TurboTax Live surprised her with a "little lift" that empowered her to help even more beauty professionals. "When my tax expert Diana surprised me with a little lift, I was moved to tears," says Julz. "With that little lift, I was able to establish a scholarship fund to help get other hairdressers the education they deserve."


Alana, new mom

Alana welcomed her first child in 2020. "I think my biggest challenge was figuring out how to be a mom, with no guidance," she says. "My original plan was to have my mom by my side, teaching me the ropes, but because of COVID, she wasn't able to come out here."

She was also without a job for most of 2020 and struggled to find something new.

So, Alana took it as a sign: she decided to launch her own business so she could support her new baby, and that's exactly what she did. She started a feel-good company that specializes in creating affirmation card decks — and she's currently in the process of starting a second, video-editing business.

TurboTax Live answered Alana's questions about her taxes and gave her some much-needed advice as she prepared to launch her businesses. Thanks to their "little lift," they provided her with a little emotional support too.

"I got my mom a plane ticket to finally [have her] meet [my daughter] for her first birthday," Alana says. "I was also able to get a new computer," which helped her invest in her new business and work on her video editing skills. "It's helped my family and me so much," she says.


Michael, science teacher

When schools shut down across the country last year, Michael had to learn how to adapt to a virtual classroom.

"As a teacher, I had to completely revamp everything," he says, so that he could keep his students engaged while teaching online. "At the beginning, it was a nightmare because I had no idea. I had to go from A-Z within a couple of weeks."

Michael's TurboTax Live expert answered his questions about how working from home affected his taxes and helped him uncover surprising tax deductions. To top it all off, his expert surprised him with brand new science equipment and supplies, which allowed him to create an entire line of classes on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook. "Now I can truly potentially reach millions of children with my lessons," he says. "I would never have taken that leap if not for the little lift from TurboTax Live."



Ricky, motivational youth speaker

As a motivational speaker, Ricky was used to doing his job in person, but, he says, "when COVID-19 hit, it altered my ability to travel and visit schools in person [because] schools moved to fully virtual or hybrid models."

He knew he had to pivot — so he began offering small virtual group workshops for student leadership groups at middle and high schools.

"This allowed me to work with student leaders to plan how they would continue making a positive impact on their school community," he says. He wasn't sure how being remote would affect his taxes, but TurboTax Live Self-Employed gave him the advice and answers that he needed to keep more money in his pocket at tax time — and the little lift he received from them has helped him serve even more students.

"[It] has been a major blessing," he says "There will be multiple schools and student groups from across the country that I can hold leadership workshops with to empower them with the tools to be inspirational leaders in their school, community, and world."

Plus, he says, it was great knowing he had an expert to help him figure out how being remote affected his taxes. "I felt confident and assured in the process of filing my taxes knowing I had an expert working with me, says Ricky. "There were things my expert knew that I would not have considered when filing on my own."

Filing your taxes doesn't have to be intimidating, especially after a year like 2020. TurboTax Live experts can give you the "little lift" you need to get your taxes done. File with the help of an expert or let an expert file for you! Go to TurboTax Live to get started.