"Joe," a homeless man in Albuquerque, N.M., poses with "The Visor," a hooded sweatshirt that zips up across the wearer's face. The designers are donating one of every 12 they sell to homeless shelters across the city.
Anders Hsi thought the alley was perfect. The one-story building next door shadowed the long dusty walls stamped with graffiti. It was just past 6:30 p.m. The Albuquerque sun lowered, expanding the shadow on the wall even more. A biting breeze whistled in from the street.
Hsi (pronounced "she") was shooting a promotional video for a hoodie called The Visor, a sweatshirt that zips up past the neck and covers the wearer's face entirely. The alley matched well with the tone the shirt conveyed: urban, edgy and dark.
He and the shirt's designers launched a fundraising effort through Kickstarter on June 17. Though the idea for a full-zip hoodie isn't anything new, soon the project took an unexpected philanthropic turn that made it stand out.
"We were wearing the sweatshirts with the hoods zipped up," Hsi remembers of the video shoot in the alley. "Out of nowhere, this guy walks up to us and says, 'What is that you're wearing? I could use something like that.'"
His jeans were worn and dirty; his sneakers were even dustier. His breath carried the faint odor of beerHis jeans were worn and dirty; his sneakers were even dustier. His breath carried the faint odor of beer.
"He pulled off his hat and asked if he could trade it for the sweatshirt," Hsi says. "I didn't know what to say."
The man's name was Joe, and for the past 10 years he'd been living on the streets of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Hsi cut him a deal: He'd give him the sweatshirt if Joe would provide feedback — it was a prototype, after all, and Hsi was looking for as many beta testers as he could find. Joe agreed.
The two stayed in contact over the next few weeks. Joe didn't have many suggestions for the shirt. Really, he was mostly happy with the privacy the mask-like hood provided.
But Hsi had an idea. "I'd never realized how many homeless people are in this city. But after meeting Joe, I really looked around and was sort of taken aback at this phenomenon right in front of me," Hsi says.
"We originally designed this sweatshirt for, you know, people who wanted privacy while sleeping on a plane or something. But Joe made me realize how else they could be used."
There are currently about 1,200 homeless people in AlbuquerqueThere are currently about 1,200 homeless people in Albuquerque, says Rene Palacios, an assistant executive director of the Albuquerque Rescue Mission shelter. The number is taken from a PIT (point in time) count from the New Mexico Coalition, which adds the number of take-ins from each shelter in the city with a physical head count of people sleeping in the street.
"The number of homeless people here is quite high," Palacios says. "We take in about 240 people every night. But we never have enough space for everyone."
Hsi says the bigger concern among the city's homeless population is police brutality. On March 16, police in Albuquerque shot and killed a homeless man named James Boyd. The shooting set off a nationwide outrage. Many argued that Boyd, who suffered from mental illness, was unfairly profiled and killed for no apparent reason. The FBI claimed they'd launch an investigation into the shooting.
"Maybe this [sweatshirt] could prevent profiling," Hsi says. "It might be wishful thinking. But I think if I were to fall asleep on the street wearing this, police would wake me up and ask about my well-being, not approach me with aggression like they did to James Boyd."
Joe is talking to me from Hsi's phone. Hsi had tracked him down by walking to the alley where Joe usually sleeps and asking other homeless people where they'd last seen him. During the beta testing phase, Hsi says, this is how they got in touch with each other.
"If I zip the sweatshirt up, it makes me feel more private," Joe says. His voice is gruff. "People tend to stare at you when you're sitting on the side of the street. It's nice having some privacy, you know? And it's warm." The Albuquerque Rescue Mission stops giving out blankets after the weather gets above 50 degrees.
The Visor lets Joe stay camouflaged and warm yet still vigilant to his surroundings (wearers can see through mesh panels even when the hoodie is zipped).
"A lot of these are people who met really unfortunate circumstances. Veterans with PTSD who've lost everything," Hsi says. "You couple that with mental illness and addiction, and you've got a real problem. This is just a small step to help out."
For every 12 sweatshirts they sell, they'll donate one to a homeless shelter in the city. At time of writing, the project was about $8,700 into its $15,000 goal.