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(Humanize Austin)

Instead of mourning the brain tumor diagnosis he received in August, Dusty Monroe took it as a sign: he needed to do more for his community. The tumor wasn't cancerous, luckily. Still, Monroe stuck to his epiphany. But where to start?

While scrolling on Reddit, Monroe stumbled upon a post made about "Bucket Guy." After losing income due to COVID-19, Bucket Guy took to the streets performing drum solos on buckets for extra cash next to a sign with his name and his Venmo.

"Someone should make him a better sign," one comment read.

Monroe, who has a background in graphic design, took it upon himself to do just that—designing, printing and delivering a new sign to Bucket Guy.

"I have a cool, unique set of skills, but my whole life I really used them only for myself and for my family and that kind of woke me up and I was like, 'Dude, you could die,'" Monroe said. "This opportunity to go help this one guy, make them cool little signs was kind of trivial (but) made me feel good."

Monroe then knew how he was going to help the community.

Humanize Austin is a new nonprofit that uses technology to help Austin's homeless residents get off the street, connect them with resources and educate the public on the causes of homelessness.

The company plans to provide qualifying homeless individuals with a sign featuring a unique QR code and link that will take people who scan to a web page. There they will find the person's story, as well as a video of how they got where they are, what skills they have and a seamless way to offer that person a job or donate money.

Signs will look similar to this mockup.

Monroe said there is evidence suggesting homeless people are often perceived as less human, so he is striving to correct that perception and humanize Austin's homeless population, hence the name.

"The hope is that it's like a two-minute video, not very long, just quick enough to learn about them, and help humanize who they are," Monroe said. "Give them a story, give them a face and give them an opportunity and a platform to reduce that discrimination and prejudice."

Monroe said one of the key issues with homelessness is a decline in self-esteem, sometimes making the individual feel worthless, which makes it harder to get back on their feet. Because of that, sign-holders will automatically donate 20% of the donations they receive to an organization of their choice.

"I think this is the key differentiator for us," Monroe said. "(The homeless) begin to contribute to society in a meaningful way, by choosing to have some of their donations given to that nonprofit."

Monroe will serve as the creative lead on the signs, designing them himself. Humanize Austin doesn't have any signs on the street yet, as they are still in the early stages of development, but they are on track to start doling out signs in January.

Monroe said he wants to help the homeless beyond creating these signs. For that reason, Humanize Austin is planning to partner with several other organizations, like Salvation Army, that focus on helping homeless people reintegrate into society.

"(We are) really trying to partner with different community organizations as well as make it just a grassroots effort," Monroe said.

Humanize Austin is always looking for volunteers and is available on Facebook and Instagram.

More on homelessness:

Austin’s homeless camps face COVID and cleanups one year after governor's intervention (Jordan Vonderhaar)


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