Personalizing the Homeless

By Ti Published on .

A new initiative to help the homeless, created by L.A. brand communications shop 86 The Onions, started with one homeless guy in agency founder Chad Rea's neighborhood. "There are a lot of homeless people in Venice," says Rea. "I walk past one man in particular every day to and from work. It wasn't until I learned his name that our relationship changed. He was no longer the panhandler but someone I wanted to know more about and help. I wondered if my reaction was something that could happen on a larger scale."

The agency developed an initiative to distribute 5,000 11x17 nametag signs to L.A.'s homeless, putting names to faces for those whose circumstances tends to rob them of personal identity, while generating awareness of the issue of homelessness among the media and general public. The signs were produced with donations from printer Media Graphics/Total Lithography and paper supplier Unisource, and 86TO approached L.A. charitable organizations to assist with distribution. While the idea was enthusiastically received, Rea says a concerted effort among the different groups proved impossible, so rather than letting bureaucratic snafus 86 the project, the agency expanded the scope of the idea. 86TO is now enlisting the help of photographers around the world to distribute signs to the homeless in their own neighborhoods and photograph the men and women holding their personalized name tags. The agency plans to assemble the submitted images for public viewing via an exhibition, website and a book. Proceeds will be used for further projects assisting the homeless. There is no 86TO trademark on the idea, says Rea (nor is the agency's logo splashed all over the signs). "We encourage anyone to reproduce this idea and make it happen in their community. We don't have answers on how to solve the issue. We're merely providing a platform for those who might. We're building awareness by giving individuals a voice." Photographers and other interested parties may contact Chad Rea at

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