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She saw the dad who abandoned her living on the street. Then she fought to save his life.

The stunning before-and-afters of the homeless dad whose story went viral.

She saw the dad who abandoned her living on the street. Then she fought to save his life.

In April 2013, Diana Kim spotted her father for the first time in decades.

He was living on the street, disheveled and unkempt, and didn't have a clue who she was.


A photograph taken by Kim of her father while he was living on the streets. Photo courtesy of Diana Kim, "The Homeless Paradise."

As you can imagine, Kim — now 30 years old — didn't quite know what to think or how to feel. Her father had abandoned her when she was about 5, and she had no relationship with the seemingly homeless man before her.

"He hadn't been part of my life, he wasn't there," Kim explained. It was an emotional experience, "having to deal with my own personal feelings of being abandoned, and then at the same time recognizing that he's a person, just like [every other homeless person] I have reached out to."

"He wouldn't talk to me, wouldn't acknowledge me," she told Upworthy of that initial attempt to interact with him. "Then it started to really become clear to me that something is wrong with him mentally. He's mentally ill."

It was a unique situation for Kim, in particular, to find herself in.

Homelessness hit close to home for Kim long before she discovered her own father roaming the streets. She'd been an advocate for the homeless for years, and now her own father was among those she was fighting for.

Kim as a child, photographed with her father. Photo courtesy of Diana Kim, "The Homeless Paradise."

Kim grew up in Hawaii, which is trying to curb unrelenting increases in homelessness — including a 24% increase in chronic homelessness just last year. Kim's turbulent family life left her battling what she considers "transitional homelessness" as a teen. Kim, who chose not to talk about her relationship with her mother, had slept in parks, lived out of a car, and relied on the kindness of friends to put a roof over her head some nights.

In large part because of her personal experiences, Kim began using photography to bring more visibility to homelessness back in 2003. "When you grow up at an early age and you experience struggle, that shapes the way you see the world."

Little had she known how much her advocacy would come full circle.

Homelessness has become a dire issue in the Aloha State, where chronic homelessness increased by 24% last year.

Kim was an ally to those living on the streets but could also remember the pain left behind by an absent father. It was only because her grandma had called, distraught and asking for help, that Kim agreed to find her father in the first place.

"He hadn't been part of my life, he wasn't there," she explained. It was an emotional experience "having to deal with my own personal feelings of being abandoned, and then at the same time recognizing that he's a person, just like [every other homeless person] I have reached out to."

As Kim later learned, her father was schizophrenic, and he'd stopped taking his medication.

Photo courtesy of Diana Kim, "The Homeless Paradise."

Kim decided to fight for the dad who wouldn't even make eye contact with her — the dad she didn't know.

When she initially spotted him on the street, Kim's father did have a studio apartment he could go home to. But he lost it shortly thereafter — he'd been "scaring" his neighbors and wasn't able to take care of his personal hygiene.

"No one could get through to him," Kim explained. "He was evicted, and he had no place to go."

For the next several months, Kim routinely visited him on the street, trying to reconnect and persuade him to seek help. It was exhausting, and she didn't know if he'd survive.

But she did everything she could to help.

"At some point, you have to face your own fears and your own insecurities and your own pain," she told Upworthy. "And [for me] it was looking at my father and saying, 'That's my dad, and I'm going to help him, and I don't know what I have to do — I don't know what I'm supposed to do — to get through to him. But I'm going to stay with him and figure it out."

Photo courtesy of Diana Kim, "The Homeless Paradise."

Years ago, Kim started a photo blog, " The Homeless Paradise," that documents her interactions with Hawaiians living without stable shelter. After discovering her father, she began telling his story through the blog as well. Its pages are filled with tragedy, hope, and Kim's determination to help the world see Hawaii's homeless as people, not problems.

"I can't even count the number of times I have tried to get [my father] to accept clothing, and consider going to a shelter," she wrote in August 2014 about a particularly trying day with her dad. "Sometimes I walk away with a sense of defeat, other times I find myself feeling completely disconnected, and in this most recent encounter, I walked away feeling a mix of both."

In late summer 2014, Kim's father's health took a turn for the worse.

Someone called the police after finding him face-down on the sidewalk. Her father had suffered a heart attack. And because he had no ID or medical records, it took weeks for word to make it to Kim.

Photo courtesy of Diana Kim, "The Homeless Paradise."

Although her immediate reaction was overwhelming uncertainty — "I wasn't sure if he was going to make it" — medical attention ended up being the best thing for him.

In a way, his hospitalization was a blessing in disguise.

Her father's time in the hospital helped give him a new starting point.

Since his hospitalization about a year ago, Kim's dad has taken substantial steps forward in bettering his life. Now he's living in an assisted living residence and taking his medication, and Kim's relationship with him has evolved "day by day."

Upon his return to a healthier state, Kim learned that he'd battled serious mental health issues since 1990, which had affected his ability to nurture a relationship with her all those years.

Photo courtesy of Diana Kim, "The Homeless Paradise."

"To see my dad go from a place where he was really just a shell, and now to be filled again — with love, with hope, with dreams, and desire — it's an amazing experience," she said, noting he's even been able to get his driver's license again. "And I think that everyone who's out there is capable of it."

Kim's blossoming relationship with her dad further inspired her to build a career focused on helping those who need it.

With just one year left at the University of Hawaii's William S. Richardson School of Law, Kim plans to use her degree to help people who've been in her father's shoes.

She volunteers at a nonprofit that provides legal services to veterans and homeless individuals and, of course, is still using her camera and blog to tell the stories of Hawaii's homeless.

Photo courtesy of Diana Kim, "The Homeless Paradise."

"The camera itself has always been a catalyst for change in my eyes," she said. "But it's now bridging it with the world of law and policy, and being able to help shape the outcomes in our community that makes it really fulfilling and meaningful."

And perhaps the best part?

"He's really proud of me," she says.

Kim has also launched a Kickstarter to supply the homeless with a vital tool in keeping them safe: a bracelet.

"I realized shortly [after my father was hospitalized] how important it is to have IDs and other important documentation to reintegrate into society," she wrote on her Kickstarter page. "Many homeless individuals face the threat of losing their documents, having them stolen, or thrown away by city and county sweeps."

Kim's father looks at family photos. Photo courtesy of Diana Kim, "The Homeless Paradise."

That's why Kim partnered with CARE Medical History Bracelets in digitizing forms of ID and crucial medical documents for any homeless person who wants to participate. She aims to provide them with a bracelet so their personal information and health status can be more accessible to health professionals than her father's was.

The fundraiser is now closed, but it also helped Kim raise funds to produce photo books of "The Homeless Paradise." And Kim has told Upworthy that people can continue to support her work by donating or ordering prints of her photos on The Homeless Paradise blog. She says the proceeds will go for the ongoing efforts of the Kickstarter.

The past couple of years have been an emotional yet fulfilling roller coaster for Kim.

But one lesson she's learned is that love will always find its way into your heart if you let it.

"In the journey of emotionally and physically caring for my father, I learned that nothing can be truer than love," she wrote on her blog. "I love him. It doesn't matter what he did, or what he didn't do. The pain and suffering that he experienced, and caused me over all those years, didn't matter anymore. All that mattered was that he had the opportunity to live again, to function again, to have a second chance. And now he has it."

Photo courtesy of Diana Kim, "The Homeless Paradise."

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

via Pixabay

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