SHANNON SILCOX – The Corsair
A man who considers himself homeless is now heading a new speakers’ bureau on homelessness.
Matthew Paul Maes, a self-described “transient by choice due to a wanderlust for travel,” is recruiting homeless people to speak to classrooms, churches, and other area organizations with the help of the Escarosa Coalition on the Homeless (ECOH).
Maes has traveled the country in the small RV he lives in. For most of his adult life, he worked as a river guide in the southwestern United States. He found what he enjoyed most about his work was the opportunity to inform people.
So Maes went back to school, and in 2009 at the age of 49, graduated from Colorado State University with a B.S. in mass communications. After becoming involved with AmeriCorps VISTA, a national service program designed specifically to fight poverty, Maes found his niche with ECOH.
While his home is still his camper, these days it sits parked outside his office at the coalition’s headquarters at 2601 W. Strong St.
At ECOH, Maes serves as the facilitator for Faces of the Homeless Speakers’ Bureau, an initiative of the National Coalition on the Homeless. According to the national group’s website, the bureau is composed of “people who are or have been homeless and work to educate the public about homelessness and what can be done to end it.”
Maes seeks such speakers to share their experiences. They will give firsthand accounts of how they became homeless, how they survived the streets, and how they were able to overcome their situation.
Although the obvious purpose of the bureau is educating the public, Maes believes it has benefits for the speakers as well: “It gives them a sense of empowerment; they see that they have the ability to inspire others with their words.”
Maes doesn’t let his passion for informing the public stop with the bureau. As an avid video producer, he is currently using his own equipment to film homeless individuals in the Pensacola area for a documentary.
“I know that I could use my camera equipment to produce for the local TV station, but I just believe this story found me,” Maes said. The unedited draft of his documentary shares a visit with a woman named Blu Jean, who lives in a homeless camp with her dog, Cujo.
Blu Jean maintains a tent on county property near Fairfield and Texar drives. Pots and pans are stacked outside of her tent near signs that tell passers-by not to toss their cigarette butts on the ground. Cujo, a golden dog about the size of a Labrador Retriever, is tethered on a line that allows him to run some distance.
Cujo is one of the stars of Maes’ documentary. The dog was shot three times by law enforcement personnel. Maes was still filming as Blu Jean and a friend walked down a railroad track carrying her faithful companion on a makeshift gurney to a veterinarian. Cujo is recovering.
Maes will tell both sides of the story—Blu Jean’s and the police’s versions—in his documentary.
Maes hopes initiatives such as this documentary, the speakers’ bureau, and ECOH’s partnership with the Waterfront Rescue Mission will help to bring the plight of poverty into focus.
“If there was enough will in the consciousness of the public, they would realize we can help,” Maes said.
Maes said college students should remember that even some of the simplest solutions can make a big impact.
“College students can adopt a veteran to care for, hold a cake baking party and bag up the goodies and include a word of good cheer, put together hygiene kits and include a pair of socks, or just strike up a conversation with someone who’s homeless and ask how you can help.”
“I believe it will take a village to end poverty, but if we begin to peel through all the aspects of it, we will uncover solvable solutions,” Maes said.