Pimp This Bum
Posting ads for 9 years
Tim Edwards was just another one of the men begging for change at a busy Houston underpass, ignored by most drivers who sped on past without a glance.
Now, thanks to an internet marketing campaign and unlikely allies, Edwards has become the human face of homelessness to thousands of online viewers drawn to his website by its deliberately provocative name - Pimp This Bum.
During regular webcasts, dozens of visitors to www.pimpthisbum.com ask questions about Edwards' life and his slow fall from office manager with a home, a car, and a future to an outcast short of hope and with little prospect of help.
If the site had been called "Help the Homeless", many web surfers might just have clicked on past, says Sean.
A venue where visitors can donate money, services and goods to help Edwards yank himself out of homelessness.
Some homeless advocates say it makes Edwards a victim of exploitation, but the organisers say that edgy tone is what makes the project succeed.
"We wanted to insult people's sensitivities so that they would go to the site and see Tim, and people seem to have fallen in love with him. He's funny and doesn't blame the world for his situation," said Kevin Dolan, 55, a marketing specialist from the Houston suburb of Katy who started the website with his 24-year-old son, Sean.
The Dolans had initially set out to test an advertising campaign and generate publicity for their new internet marketing business. They planned to promote a mom-and-pop business, until Sean suggested using the website to do some good.
Now visitors to the website are getting to know Edwards beyond the stereotype of an anonymous group labelled "The Homeless".
"I'm the world's first online bum," jokes Edwards, a lanky, bearded 37-year-old who talks about life on the streets with a mix of dark humour and unvarnished honesty. "The whole idea of this project is to get people off the street. I'm the pioneer, but I've got friends behind me. If I don't get this right, it ain't gonna work for them."
The website features videos of Edwards and a photograph showing him with a hand-drawn, cardboard sign.
There's a "Donate" button where viewers can charge donations to their credit card. And some people have dropped by Edwards' regular panhandling spot to drop off food and fast-food gift cards - or just to shout hello.
This week, Edwards is scheduled to enter an alcohol detox programme at the Seattle-based Sunray Treatment and Recovery, which is providing the US$13,800 ($27,400), 35-day programme free of charge. There are plans to air webcasts as Edwards goes through it.