Unhoused individuals become focus of 20-year-old Emy’s life work after encountering Facu, a young man her age living on the streets

I sat down beside him, wrapped him in the blanket I carried, and hugged him tightly. When he began to cry, I dried his tears, as I handed him food to eat. “I want to know your story,” I said gently.

  • 8 months ago
  • September 10, 2023
7 min read
Emy (left) pictured with Facu (right) who she found living unhoused on the streets of the city. Emy helped Facu obtain housing through donations from a viral video she posted. Facus is now finishing school, living with his brother, and thinking about the future. Emy (left) pictured with Facu (right) who she found living unhoused on the streets of the city. Emy helped Facu obtain housing through donations from a viral video she posted. Facus is now finishing school, living with his brother, and thinking about the future. | Photo courtesy of Emy Smith
Facu (right) was living unhoused when Emy (left) found him and helped him to get housing.
Interview Subject
Emy Smith, 20, is a singer and songwriter in Argentina. When the economic crisis hit the country, Emy was moved seeing unhoused people on the streets. She decided to do something about it. Having attended a very humble public stories, Emy heard many different kinds of stories and developed great empathy for people in vulnerable situations. When she met Facu – a young man her age experiencing homelessness – she made a video with him and it went viral. The donations they raised allowed Facu to obtain housing and Emy’s project took off. She has accounts on TikTok and Instagram (@soy.emysmith), where she shares stories of people in vulnerable situations and details how they can be helped.
Background Information
According to the Argentine government’s public statements, the issue of homelessness remains a complex social problem and creates serious exclusions in urban centers for vulnerable people. Unhoused people face additional human rights issues such as lack of access to healthcare, education, and work. They often lose their sense of identity as they face ostracization and judgement from the public. They may become victims of violence and suffer without help from various mental and physical health issues. To create effective strategies, the government says we must give unhoused people the chance to be protagonists in their own care and come to agreements on what they do or do not need. Individual circumstances matter. Some unhoused persons may have experienced separations, violence, a death of a loved one, mental illness challenges, problematic consumption, or an array of other issues. They may also be affected by the economy, labor market, persistent poverty, and social marginalization. Plans of action should also take into account each persons interests and abilities.

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina ꟷ The number of unhoused people living in the streets of my city continues to escalate as we battle a historic economic crisis. The more aware I become of the problem; I cannot wipe it from my mind.

I feel a deep well of kindness for the unhoused people all around me. So, I began walking the streets each night with hot tea to hand out. In the winter, I carried a coat to give away; and in the summer, something cool to sleep under. Soon, I began watching videos of people helping the unhoused, hoping to start a project of my own.

Then, one day, as I strolled through the city and the cold air nipped at me, shock overtook my body. I saw a young man my age lying on the ground trying to wrap up in a dog’s blanket. His coat barely covered him. “How can this be,” my mind cried. Impulsively, I sat down next to him. As we talked, I told Facu, “I’m coming back tomorrow and I’m bringing you food and something for shelter.”

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A simple video reaches a half million views and unhoused youth finds a home

As soon as I left, I called my mother. We started conducting tours of the unhoused communities around us. As I walked amongst the people carrying food and coats, I found Facu in the same place I left him. He waited patiently for me, just as I instructed. It moved me to see him still there and I immediately began to cry.

I sat down beside him, wrapped him in the blanket I carried, and hugged him tightly. When he began to cry, I dried his tears, as I handed him food to eat. “I want to know your story,” I said gently. Facu told me the house where he and his family lived burned down in January. Being left out on the streets, he felt incredibly worried. He wanted out but had nowhere to go.

Though I had no experience, I suggested we make a video telling his story and spread it all over. I felt shocked when, after just two days, the video reached a half million views. The representatives from a television channel contacted me and with their help, we raised one million pesos. We bought Facu a coat and then paid three months’ rent for a small room where he could live, safe from the cold and life on the streets.

After such a big win, it felt incredibly hard to return to our tour through the streets of Buenos Aires. Sitting in my car with my mom after we left Facu, we barely spoke. You could cut the air with a knife. Then, suddenly, I looked at her and we both started crying and laughing at the same time. Never did I imagine our efforts would lead to this young man to so much help.

Making authentic connections with unhoused people forges the pathway for helping

Soon, the people who followed me online recommended I meet 23-year-old Ari. They sent me his profile and I contacted him immediately. I told him about the last experience and suggested we meet. I repeated the same exact process and, once again, the television reps reached out. This time, we raised two million pesos and Ari paid for five months’ rent. Job opportunities suddenly appeared, and his life took a 360-degree turn.

Touring through the streets I meet all kinds of people. Some say, “No, do not give me anything. I’m not homeless.” I know they are but I go along because they feel afraid or ashamed. Others break your heart with stories of being left alone since childhood and never able to get ahead. I see more and more families in vulnerable situations.

People show up who have never lived in the streets before but the Pandemic and then the economic crisis left them spinning in a tailwind. I meet people who cannot pay rent on a house or a room and have to choose between that or feeding their children. Anytime I go out, I sit down and talk to people; I put myself beside them. Before returning home, I spend as much time as I can. “This could be me,” I always think. “I need to understand what it is like to live in their shoes.”

Handing out a few pesos, I encounter some people who shine with hope at the possibility of having help, and others who feel ashamed by it. Justing saying hello is not enough to connect with people. In order to help, you must create connections. I do that through eye contact, sitting, and talking. You think it’s irrelevant but it becomes the pathway to making a difference.

We need more people out here helping the unhoused

The last person I helped, named Martín, sat in a broken wheelchair. He could barely move. As I approached him, I looked him in the eyes and asked, “When was the last time someone hugged you?” He stared at me, holding my glance for a moment before tears filled his own eyes. “People don’t even see us,” he said, quietly. “They ignore us or despise us. They look us over from top to bottom. Others pass by as if you are nothing.” Again, I asked him, almost crying, “When was the last time someone hugged you, Martín?”

He pondered my question for a moment before I took him in my arms. “Martín, today,” I said as I held him in my embrace. He cried inconsolably as I cradled him. Something so simple can mean so much. After that, we got Martín a new wheelchair and thanks to a couple doctors, he received a prosthesis for his leg.

The tours bring me great joy but, honestly, they also scare me. Getting close to people can be complex. I start with a hello, then sit down next to them. I ask, “Can I help you?” Asking that question usually changes their demeanor and how things play out. When you offer help, you watch people’s faces change.

A little hello from the heart can activate a state of joy in someone. It can illuminate the darkness in which they live. My dream is to build an even bigger network where people can work together to improve this situation for those who suffer and optimize their quality of life.

I see it like piecing together a chain. The more people who come to help, the more food and clothing can reach those in need. So, through my project, I travel the streets. I carry hot drinks in thermoses and deliver food and shelter. New surprises emerge every day and this job exists 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Translation Disclaimer

Translations provided by Orato World Media are intended to result in the end translated document being understandable in the end language. Although every effort is made to ensure our translations are accurate we cannot guarantee the translation will be without errors.


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