To know Dani Cook is to know not just the prolific spoken word artist that has walked on stages and speak words that are thought provoking and sometimes very direct in its intent. Nor is she the talented business woman and artist. You can also look at the layers of her life, from her stint in the military to loving mother, grandmother and other times that challenged her spirit and resolve…..
The Dani that I’m talking with today is the Dani that has watched society become silent and unmoving when it comes to the human condition. A community that has turned away from those that are in need and is looking as she puts it, only one thing…Love.
So she steps into a position that she will tell you, she did not foresee coming into existence. In the beginning it was the Free Hugs Campaign, but then something else was birthed, the helping of our homeless citizens in Charlotte. So strong is her belief in their need, this amazing sister has not only given items on a weekly basis to them (out of pocket and with assistance by other people that care) but she has helped some get back home via bus, slept one weekend with them to fully understand what they go through on a daily basis, and even opened her home to two sweet spirits to aid in their health and care.
To talk to her about this was a must. It became not just an interview, but an eye opening, spirit challenging reflect and step up experience to be honest…..
Dani, what moved you to take up first the Free Hugs Campaign, then working and helping the homeless community?
I was sitting at my desk in (still in Corporate America) and saw a friend post the Official Free Hugs Campaign video. It told the story of Juan Mann’s original Free Hugs movement that started in 2006. I was moved to tears by the video and immediately wanted to do a “Free Hugs” in Charlotte. I posted it on my social media, set the date, and May 10th, 2014 was the very first Free Hugs – Charlotte event. Over the next 2 1/2 years, we would do 18+ events and give out thousands of hugs.
Then… during out Free Hugs event in October 20017, I couldn’t shake this feeling I had. It was a feeling like there was more and we were missing it. So the next day, I grabbed a Free Hugs sign and headed Uptown by myself. I ended up sitting down and talking with several of the folks in our homeless community, buying them dinner, and getting two of them a room for the night. In that one afternoon, I learned things that would change Free Hugs and my life forever. I learned how important sleeping bags, socks, bus passes, and learning the feeding schedule is to someone who is living on the street. I learned about the shelters and ministries… what’s working and what’s failing miserably.
The next day, I put up a post that I was buying sleeping bags on Amazon and planned to deliver them the upcoming weekend. I committed to purchasing them on faith for anyone who told me they would reimburse me. One week later, we delivered 15 winter sleeping bags to our homeless community, along with 15 hygiene bags, snacks, and bottled water.
That’s how it all started.
Sis…….Charlotte’s homeless population is staggering. Over 4700 homeless children in CMS, overcapacity recorded at the centers and resources that seem to be limited as well?
There’s a large number of homeless in Charlotte and a good portion of those are chronically homeless. Chronically homeless means they have to have been without a home for 12 months OR homeless 3 times in the last 4 years. As far as overcapacity, we have the ability to house when we deem it necessary. For example, the Rooms at the Inn program has varying numbers of beds open (I’ve seen it as high as 193) for the night when the weather is severe and more churches choose to participate. If we felt it was a priority ALL the time, we could provide more shelter than we currently do. Also, the number of fights, theft, and drugs that happen within many of the shelters keep quite a few people from staying there. Of course, the shelters are also incentivized to house those who already get government checks which leaves others in need as well.
The city noted in 2015 its plan to end homelessness by 2016….to raise 11 million dollars for affordable housing. Your thoughts?
How’d we do? What was the money raised spent on? Because apparently, we fell short.
Following your posts and videos, you’ve gained some acceptance with several individuals that are homeless in Charlotte. What is the misconception that many people have about those that are homeless?
That they’re all drug addicts, thieves, or dangerous and that they make a ton of money panhandling and misuse the money they are given.
How can the community really help?
It’s about more than donating clothes and food. There are things they truly need… clean laundry, storage units for their items so they can work, showers, bus passes, etc. Talk to someone who REALLY knows them and find out what’s important to them.
It’s about relationships. Many of them have lost hope in humanity. They don’t believe they are worth saving and they deserve the life they have. With that type of mindset, nothing will change for them no matter what you do. You can give them houses, jobs, and clothes… but if you don’t reinstate their belief in humanity, kindness, and love, it won’t matter. We need to be the bridge to them learning to love themselves again. Only then will there be permanent, lasting change.
Thanks again for helping shed light on the issue.
To learn more, and to give in order to help our homeless population, visit Dani’s Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/thedanicook