Revamping The Homeless’ Cardboard Signs


A design student in Chicago, Illinois has earned himself a whole lot of good karma points, after going around the city and revamping the cardboard pleas of the city’s homeless people. With a population over over 2.5 million people, it’s easy for the homeless to feel overlooked and unseen in the hustle and bustle.

Chicago art student, Ian Todd, said “My hope was that the Chicago project would create some awareness around the homeless, and also that people would be more inclined to talk when they walk by, and more willing to give.”

The 23 year old student said that the quantity of homeless people in Chicago, compared to his home in California really shocked him. He moved to Chicago to attend the Chicago Portfolio School, which specializes in advertising and design. Talking about the inspiration, he said “I was taking a class on expressive type, and after seeing someone hold a cardboard sign, I thought a well-designed one could grab people’s attention.”

Todd started a blog which he called ‘The Urban Type Experiment’, and began talking to homeless people, asking if they wanted a redesign of their cardboard signs. Some said no (for reasons undisclosed), but some gladly accepted the help, and Todd spent anywhere from five to ten hours on each sign! In two months, he had made 20 signs.

Accompanying pictures of the upgraded signs were stories shared by the homeless people themselves, ranging from broken families to war veterans. One example, a veteran called Mike, lost his leg fighting in Somalia. He is in his mid-fifties and has been homeless for six years. The country he fought and lost a limb for cannot even provide him guaranteed shelter.

Todd seems to be proud of his work, and Mike is pleased with his sign, but neither of them can confirm whether his work is really helping. The signs don’t seen to be having much effect on general philanthropy.

Another homeless man, Ulysses, who has been helped by the young artist said that the signed has definitely resulted in more charity for himself after two tours of Iraq. He says ‘Anything is appreciated. Thank you for your generosity. Ulysses was helped by word of mouth from a friend who had received a cardboard sign from Todd.

The Executive Director of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless said that signs only help a minority of the homeless community and that the system needs action as a whole to help these people. He added that the homeless population has never been so large and over 6,000 people fill Chicago shelters each night. He also said, “It’s getting worse, is all I can say”.

There is a happy ending for Todd, as he won an advertising internship in Los Angeles and moved back to his native state. He said goodbye to those he had helped and has not ruled out making signs for California’s homeless. “Homelessness is definitely here,” he said, “I wouldn’t mind getting something started.”

Sadly, the ending for the homeless is not so happy, with national budget cuts forcing more to the streets and offering less help for those already there. A sad state of affairs.

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