San Francisco Homeless Man Gets Help From New Friend

PHOTO: Ryan and Mo eat dinner in this undated handout photo.PlayCourtesy Ryan Hupfer
WATCH Homeless Man Gets Help From New Friend

Ryan Hupfer of San Francisco encounters homeless people all the time to and from his marketing-sales job in Burlingame, Calif. But there was something about the man who begged for cigarettes at the train station one evening in May that captured his attention and hasn't let go.

"I got him a sandwich, and said, 'Goodbye," but first I took a picture of him," Hupfer said. "I usually don't [do that], but there was just something about him."

Before they parted ways that first time, however, Hupfer used a wait in line for the sandwich to begin to learn a little bit about his dinner guest, whose name was Mo.

Soon, Hupfer, 32, began to see Mo more frequently. "I would walk to the train station to go to work and I would see him lying on the sidewalk," he said. "It got to the point where I'd see him on a regular basis."

So Hupfer started waking Mo up in the morning and taking him to coffee. Soon, they had forged a friendship.

Hupfer learned that Mo, who is in his late 50s, has been homeless for nearly four years. He is on probation for selling narcotics, and was arrested when he attempted to sell drugs to an undercover cop.

Hupfer began documenting his relationship with Mo on his blog. He posted pictures of Mo sleeping on the street, and wrote about the time Mo called him out of the blue and decided to come to church with him.

Since meeting, Hupfer has helped Mo get his cavities filled for free at a dentist in San Francisco to help with his tooth aches. He's also working to keep Mo from sleeping on the street by helping him pay for lodging at a local motel.

"It's not cheap living in San Francisco, but there are other things I was trying to do to leverage it," Hupfer said of helping Mo out. "I cut things out to make sure that I could make sure that he could at least have enough money to stay somewhere."

Readers of his blog soon started to look for ways to help Mo.

One reader, Greg Oppman, who works at Runners Forum, a fitness store in Carmel, Ind., sent Mo two pairs of running sneakers for free.

Mo's reaction to the present, which Hupfer documented on video, is one of pure elation.

"I don't want to put them on, I might get them dirty," he says to Hupfer.

As their friendship developed, Hupfer said he wanted to get a better understanding of what Mo was doing during the day while he was at work.

"I had a flip cam, and I gave it to him to get a better perspective of what it's like living on the street from day to day," said Hupfer, who says he doesn't know Mo's last name.

Mo, short for Moses, has taken to documenting his daily life with the camera, remarking on San Franciscans who clean up after their dogs, and speaking with other homeless people on the streets to help spread their stories.

Mo's interview with Andrew, a newly homeless man, made it to the front page of social news website Reddit, thanks to Hupfer.

"It's been an interesting exercise in figuring out the best way of action in helping homeless people," Hupfer said of their friendship. "I think the point of helping someone like Mo is you need to push yourself past the point of being comfortable, and it takes time."

Hupfer initially began posting his videos with Mo on his own YouTube channel, but has since created Mo his own. He has also created a Facebook page for Mo to share his videos, and post status updates on his behalf.

Hupfer has also created a WePay account for people to donate to Mo. He details what each donation amount could help to buy Mo, seeking help to pay for new clothing, lodging, food and transportation.

So far, he has received a little more than $1,000 for Mo, he said.

Hupfer says his friendship with Mo has helped to stimulate a conversation about helping the homeless in non-traditional ways.

"People ask me about homeless people. They say, 'I want to help, but how do I help?' I tell them it's really simple: You have to acknowledge them, these are people who get walked by by most people on a day to day basis," he said.

Hupfer said his friendship with Mo is certainly different for him, but it's just as novel for Mo.

"He told me, 'I used to beat people up like you in prison.' But just like a lot of people think homeless people want something from them," he said, "I think homeless people have to be skeptical, too."