The people who live here call it their "pier-and-beam house." They've lost a lot--all of their security, most of their sobriety, some of their sanity--but they still have a sense of humor. Or irony, at least. The "house" is the underbelly of a bridge on Northwest Highway, a slab of concrete never meant to be seen, much less slept on.
They like it here--James, Carl, Linda, sometimes Woodstock and Sundance, sometimes a few others. As far as homeless camps go, it's a pretty sweet deal. They have a few turtles and their beloved "duckies," a flock of two dozen or so swimming in the murky water that borders their camp--their "oceanfront," they call it. And it's close to work: The busy intersection where they nickel-and-dime their way to a new bottle, maybe even a hotel room, is just 15 yards away.
No one would have expected to find Hal Samples here. Not now. Maybe five years ago, back when his coke dealer was taking home so much of Samples' salary from Prestige Ford, the dealership might as well have cut out the middleman and bought an eight-ball for him. Back when he was crashing in a vacant apartment furnished with dog shit and little else--hoping no one would find him, praying someone would. Back when his body had given up on him, as had most of his friends and family. But not now, not after losing the drugs and alcohol, not after finding God. Yet, here he is.
Hero to Zero is at Angstrom Gallery on January 17 from 8 p.m. to midnight. The show is sponsored by Prestige Ford, City Color Imaging, Philanthropy World magazine and Phil Romano. All proceeds benefit Central Dallas Ministries and A Friend Indeed Foundation. Call 214-417-8283 or e-mail HAL@herotozero.org for more information.
But Samples is merely a guest today, not a resident.
"You got any pictures?" James asks. He's all bones and leather, a scraggly gray bush of a beard obscuring most of his face. Samples digs through his bag and finds a thick stack of 3-by-5 photo proofs. There are a handful of James and Carl in there, some of Linda and Woodstock, a few more of the camp. James and Carl squat together and flip through the stack slowly, elbowing each other when their familiar faces appear. Carl and James are a matched set, their beards and tent-pole limbs making them look like Civil War POWs. There's a great shot of them standing arm in arm in the scrub brush outside the camp. It's called "Best Friends."
Samples has gotten to know James and Carl and the others pretty well over the past five months. He's gotten to know plenty of homeless people during that time. Maybe 800, maybe more. He visits them at their improvised homes behind supermarkets and restaurants, under bridges like this one, in the soup kitchens and shelters. And he takes photographs of them, of where they live and how, sometimes letting them take their own.
Most of these people haven't seen a photograph of themselves in years, some in decades. Maybe, Samples figures, by seeing themselves in the camera's mirror, they can be inspired to stop drinking or to reconnect with their families or to do whatever it takes to get them back on the road to reality and off the street. It's happened before. To him.
"When I ended up at my aunt and uncle's house, they took a photograph of me," Samples says. This was almost four years ago, when the bottom fell out and he tumbled along with it. "And I looked like hell, man. That photograph I carried with me to the rehab out in Mabank. I pinned it to my corkboard above my twin bed. As I started putting meat back on my bones, working out and eating, it didn't look like the same person anymore. People would come in, 'Who's that?' So that was something that worked on me. It's working on these guys right now. Not all of them, but I can guarantee you it's working on some of them."
It seems as though it's working here. Sort of. The change in James and Carl is subtle but noticeable at their camp under the bridge. A few weeks ago, Samples dropped off a photo album he'd made for them; since then, they've cleaned up. Piled neatly by the entrance to the camp are a dozen or so garbage bags filled to the brim. James proudly waves his arm over the stack, making sure Samples sees what they've done.
Samples knows how far James and Carl have come--and how far they have to go. He's come a long way himself. Five months ago, Samples, 31, barely knew how to work his camera. Five years ago, he didn't know how to work his life. Now, his Hero to Zero project is putting both to work for him, using his photographs--and his life story--to raise money and awareness for a segment of the population that's invisible but unavoidable as he literally puts a face on the homeless problem. But he knows it takes more than that, so he's sitting through meetings, networking, speaking to whomever will listen, partnering with Central Dallas Ministries and A Friend Indeed Foundation, organizations that have the money and connections to do things he can't. He's becoming more involved in the day-to-day lives of the people he's met along the way: James and Carl, Bill and Red, Cindy and Shots, Hollywood. Samples' relationship with the homeless community--and the people who will decide its future--deepens by the day as he moves from behind the camera and into the frame.
It's a dangerous position for Samples, exposing him to extreme moments of joy and pain. Anything could happen at any time. Anyone could disappear. Looking around James and Carl's makeshift camp, you notice that this is their graveyard as well. There are no bodies, but painted on one of the bridge's cement supports is an ad hoc tombstone: "Skeet--Rest in Peace--Amen Brother."
James stands in front of the memorial as he says his goodbyes. "I'm not gonna be around here much longer," he says, casting his eyes around the only home he knows. He has 59 tickets from the city for panhandling and being drunk in public. He knows he's moving on soon, one way or another. Maybe to jail. Maybe to another bridge, another camp. Or maybe on the wall next to Skeet. You never know where you'll end up when you start falling. You might even end up back at the top, helping everyone else up.
"If you asked me two years ago, I wouldn't have been able to pick this in a multiple choice of two as one of my options," Samples says. "I wouldn't have."
Five thousand people. Actually, 5,181. That's how many in Dallas County are homeless, according to the census taken by the Greater Dallas Homeless Alliance on January 21, 2003. Odds are, the real total is at least double that number. It's hard to imagine they found every homeless person; they looked for just seven hours.
Whatever the magic number is, everyone seems to have a theory on how to reduce it. It's impossible to get anyone who's connected with the homeless on the phone without hearing a 15-minute discourse on what the city should do with the $3 million in bond money it has earmarked for a new homeless shelter, which was approved in a May 3 election. Where they should put it, what kind of services it should have, who should run it.
Talk to Herschel Weisfeld, who runs the Sara Ellen & Samuel Weisfeld Center and spent several years on Ron Kirk's homeless task force, and you'll get one answer. Call up Judith Anne Sturrock, executive vice president of the nonprofit A Friend Indeed Foundation and chairwoman of the site selection committee for the city's homeless shelter, and you'll get another one. Same goes with Central Dallas Ministries' Larry James, the Day Resource Center's James Waghorn, just about anyone who has anything to do with homeless people in Dallas.
They don't agree on much, except one point: the importance of Hal Samples. A former homeless man who looks like an artist and talks like a car salesman can bridge more gaps than just about anyone else involved in the cause. He's comfortable in either world, whether he's taking meetings with restaurant mogul Phil Romano or taking a new sleeping bag to a friend. They all speak with a parent's pride when talking about Samples and his efforts, because to them, this is proof that the time and energy they've spent hasn't been wasted.
"Anytime a person who has experienced homelessness...comes back to the community, it's a tremendous help, because it's like learning a foreign language," says Waghorn of the city-run Day Resource Center. The center is just around the corner from City Hall and provides showers and computer access for the homeless, among other things. "You know how to speak that foreign language; you know how to understand the tribulations that these people are going through. So you're just a motivation to them."
"I just admire that young man," A Friend Indeed's Sturrock says. "I mean, I am so glad that he's in my life...I had a group of pastors on a Monday meeting, and when he got up and spoke, I got back up, and I said, 'Do I even need to be up here?' because he pulled at your heartstrings."
That's because Samples' story at once suggests the city's current system for helping the homeless can work, but for only a lucky few.
When Samples hit the streets, for example, he says he needed more than just a place to sleep. He needed full rehabilitation. But he'd made too much money as a salesman at Prestige Ford to qualify as an indigent, so the state wouldn't provide care for him. His aunt and uncle went online to try to find a solution. And there it was, at www.houseofisaiah.org, the House of Isaiah, a Christian ranch for men in Mabank, an hour outside of Dallas. Isaiah Robertson, a former All-Pro linebacker for the Los Angeles Rams and Buffalo Bills, started the ranch in 1989 as a place to kick drug and alcohol addiction and rehabilitate the "whole man"--mind, body and spirit.
"[Robertson] would have me go dig, like, solid septic tanks, and then he'd come out there and say, 'Man, I didn't tell you to put it right there. I told you to put it right there," Samples says. "It's 4 in the morning with a flashlight and shit everywhere.
"That was my new high, that place," he says. "Because it would provide endorphins. Not knowing what was gonna happen the next night. Somebody's gonna fall through the ceiling as they're pulling a Bender from Breakfast Club going to the meds cabinet. Picking up the anti-psychotics instead of the Valiums he was looking for and carping out in my wing."
Samples had relapses after leaving the House of Isaiah--he celebrated two years of sobriety on December 4--but that's the nature of addiction. For the most part, however, his stay at the ranch did the trick. And now, to some, he's an expert, the guy who can show everyone else the way.
"It's been made obvious to me that they're wanting to get my input on what worked for me, or what I think works," he says. "And when I say what worked for me, that's my opinion. I can only tell you, from my experiences, I had to be taken out of my environment for a long period of time to debrief all these things that were in my mind and re-establish some life skills and stuff."
Of course, you can't ship every homeless person, every seemingly hopeless addict out to the sticks and hope they come back as legitimate contributors to society. Samples is a unique case. They all are. But if the city can build the right kind of shelter and put enough money behind it to make it go, some believe that would work almost as well. Sturrock sees Samples--with his personality, his photographs, his past--as a lightning rod for this enterprise, a focal point that will open up wallets and minds.
"You can talk about all the people in Dallas and what we should do, but it's person on person," she says. "You know, we need to get to the heart and the soul of the people here, whether they give a shoe or a meal or they adopt a room at this new shelter. I've had very philanthropic people who I've spoken to, and they said, 'What's it gonna cost? Come back with a piece of real estate and a plan, and I will assist you in this endeavor.'
"Now, they could build another auditorium or another place to put art--they can, and they probably will--but they want to make a difference. And the difference in Dallas, Texas, is the homeless. It's not building parks. It's not Wal-Mart coming in and building a grocery store. It's not building another huge building. To make a difference in Dallas, Texas, today is [dealing with] the homeless problem. So how do we approach that? How do you tell the citizens of Dallas that they need to step forward and make a difference?
Samples knows what people think when they hear him talk about Hero to Zero. Shouldn't it be Zero to Hero? The other way, the way he has it, is just not very uplifting. Must be some mistake. They don't know where it comes from, what it means to him. They don't know that his life, at least part of it, is summed up by those three words. In that order.
"Hero to zero" was a phrase he used around the office at Prestige Ford, where he was a high-rolling salesman for almost a decade. At the time, he was referring to the monthly sales figures: "Last month's hero, this month's zero," he says. "At the end of the month, you start all over. Everyone's at the bottom." It took on a new meaning a few years later.
He was at the bottom when he started at Prestige in 1989--washing cars, watching the salesmen work the lot in their sharp suits and leave for the day in spotless cars. Samples wanted to be one of those guys: "I figured that would be a way to earn my status," he says. It didn't take him long. He was still a teenager when owner Jerry Reynolds put him on the sales floor.
"I've always had a certain sympathy for kids that work with the wash rag," says Reynolds, who started out washing cars in 1973. "It's a tough job; it's hard to wash cars when it's 110 degrees, or when it's 20 degrees. I just saw something in him that reminded me of me. I just sort of took him under my wing. He had more natural talent for this business than anyone I'd ever seen."
Prestige's general manager, Charlie Nixon, says Samples was a natural salesman, an instant hit. He was breaking sales records as quickly as he could set them. His first month on the floor he made salesman of the month. Ford included a feature on him and his sales technique in the company magazine, and he was profiled in the Dallas Times-Herald. He had a hot car, a hotter girlfriend and a money clip stuffed with hundreds. Before he was old enough to drink--legally--he had more money than he knew what to do with. That didn't last long.
He was making 10 to 12 thousand a month, partying harder by the day, because, really, what were they going to do--fire him?
By the time he was 25, he had a desk job in the finance department at Prestige, bringing in $150,000 a year, and although he was working 80 hours a week, his world really revolved around drugs and alcohol. In 1998, he picked up his third DUI. So he partied harder.
"I had a real strong addictive personality," Samples says. "I had a cocktail box, with your trazodones and your methamphetamines and the beers I'd have in the shower before I'd start my day. I'd hide 'em behind the towels underneath the bathroom sink. After a while, I'd forget where I was at."
"At one point, to get his attention, I put him back washing cars for a week," Reynolds says. "He literally took the shirt and tie off, put the uniform on and went back there for a solid week and washed cars...I finally decided this kid's got to hit rock bottom before he's going to be able to bounce back."
In succession, Samples lost his job at Prestige, his wife, his apartment, his 401(k), his Harley, his ability to use one of his eyes and part of his mind. Hero to zero.
The bounce back began in 2000, when it seemed least likely to occur. Samples hadn't eaten in four days. He couldn't see very well because one of his eyes had gotten stuck in its socket, giving him a "lazy eye." His face was puffy and discolored, with luggage under his eyes. He didn't smell very good. Not surprising: The only things in his apartment were a dog, dog shit and fruit flies.
He walked into his apartment one day to find his uncle, Donny Geldert, waiting for him. "It [the apartment] was nasty, disgusting, sickening," Geldert says. He and Samples were more like brothers since they weren't far apart in age; Hal's mother had him when she was 16, and Geldert was her younger brother. Everyone else had disappeared from Samples' life--some because they were only around for the party, some because they just wanted the party to end--but Geldert was still there. Tough love hadn't worked on Samples. Plain love did.
"I want you to live," Geldert told him. Samples decided he did, too.
There are at least four categories of homeless: river rats, shelter rats, city dwellers and bridge trolls. Mixed among those groups are people like Duane, professionally homeless. Duane makes the circuit, spending the majority of his year in Dallas but waiting out the winter in California. It's the low-rent version of summering in the Hamptons.
That's where Duane is right now. He's the one who got Samples into his current line of work.
Samples met Duane not long after he bought a camera. He had been taking photographs of buildings downtown, partly as a tourist--he'd always been too messed up to appreciate them before--and partly to see what his new toy could do. He brought them back to the resident artist's community at the South Side on Lamar lofts, where he lives, to get their opinions, their honest critiques. "I knew that they'd be more straightforward than a grandma saying, 'I'll put it on the fridge for you, honey,'" Samples says. "They told me my crap was crap."
Meeting Duane made him want to do more. Duane spotted Samples' shiny black Thunderbird. Whoever was driving that car had to have a few bucks on him, he thought. Wouldn't hurt to ask. So he did. They started talking. And inspiration struck.
Samples had his camera in his lap, so he started taking pictures of Duane. His first homeless shots. He smiles as he recalls it. "I was like, 'Oh, my God.' This guy is an awesome, beautiful man. He's just like--wow!--a beautiful guy. Just for being a man."
That alone was worth a bite to eat and a cup of coffee. They went into Starbucks, and in 10 minutes, everyone had vacated the store. (Duane hadn't bathed in months--"They weren't happy about us being there," Samples says.) Fine with Samples. He just felt the need to talk to this man.
He asked Duane what he would ask for if he could have anything he wanted. A tough question for anybody.
"So I started over," he says. "'If you can be any superhero--Superman, Aquaman--what would you be?' He goes, 'I just want the power to be visible.'"
Hero to Zero was born soon after, with that goal in mind.
What Samples found when he entered their world was that most homeless people don't want to be where they are and haven't given up trying to get out. They just want a job, a little bit of their old life back. Also: "They're likable people, man."
He met Gilbert Bunton, known to most downtown as "Red." He was a staff sergeant in Vietnam and worked at Meletio Electrical Supply for 13 years, making $13.50 an hour, until the company went under in 1990. "First time I heard the word 'downsize,'" Red says. He's been on the street since 1996.
He met Cindy and Shots, "the Lady and the Tramp of Dallas." Shots was a welder working on steel buildings, but he's been out here for a year: "Fella skipped town owing us money," he says. "Owing us all money." His girlfriend Cindy arrived a few months later. They work the corners downtown, trying to sell copies of Street Zine, the thin newspaper that The Stewpot (the Presbyterian Church-run homeless center downtown) puts together. It earns them 70 cents on the dollar. If they hustle, they can raise enough to get a room for the night. Samples calls them the "upper-echelon homeless" because they're presentable and employable. He's trying to find a restaurant that will take Shots on.
He met Hollywood Heinz Schlotter, the man in the slightly rumpled suit who was Street Zine's vendor of the month for October and November, earning him a stack of free papers. He has cartoons he gives away with every paper, trying to entice a few more people into a purchase. Hollywood wants a job, but not this one. He's been just about everything--painter, chef, graphic artist, bartender--a true "jack-of-all-trades," as he says. He lost his last gig after 9-11, so he's stuck with Street Zine and little else. But he'll do his best to make that go. "I ain't got time to get drunk," Hollywood says. "I have to work."
These are the people who make Samples' photographs so fascinating, because they're not too far removed from being your neighbor, your brother, your best friend. These are the people who have made Samples basically give his life over to Hero to Zero. He came back to work at Prestige Ford in March 2002, but lately, he's found it hard to spend much time there, even though there are bills to be paid. To make his rent this month, he even had to pawn his camera. (Central Dallas Ministries just cut him a check for a new one.)
The project has taken on new dimensions as he partners with more organizations, such as A Friend Indeed Foundation, which raises money for the homeless as well as educating the public about the situation. (Founder Brad Relander is just learning about it himself. The 24-year-old hadn't even seen a homeless person until he moved to Dallas from a small town up north.) But the concept remains simple: By selling the photographs, Samples collects money to help the people in them. Enough to buy blankets, coats, a room for the night--whatever they need, whatever he can afford. By letting people see them, he heightens awareness of a problem that's big and getting bigger. Puts it into enough faces until someone is forced to pay attention. And maybe, by showing these people what they look like in the photos, he can spur some sort of activity in them, a drive to get better, to get clean, to get off the streets.
"At first it's glamorous, man," Samples says. "They're on the news. They're in the paper. Amongst their friends, they're famous. But for what?" He lets the question hang in the air for a moment. "I've had different comments from different people, like, 'I haven't had a photograph taken of me in 15 years.' And, 'This is something I can send home to my granddaughter and let her know I'm OK.' And later on, 'I don't wanna send this to my granddaughter.' Or, 'Wow, thanks!' And later on, 'That picture is effed up. I don't want it.'"
It happened with Ephram. Samples found him downtown, shirtless and drunk. He wasn't making much sense--in English or Spanish. He was spinning around, high and getting higher. Samples set up his camera and began shooting.
A handful of the photos he took that day made their way into the Hero to Zero show. Samples took some of them back to where he'd met Ephram before so he could give them to him. He does that with every photo he takes.
"He said, 'That's not me,'" Samples says. "And we argued. And then his friend finally came over to him and said, 'That is you.' Then he was, like, overly apologetic. He wanted to make sure I knew he was sorry. And he left with that photograph."
After trying for a month to track down Ephram again, he finally found him. Sitting right next to him at church. "And he speaks good English," Samples says, laughing.
"I think when you meet someone like Hal, you realize there is a system, the system can work, and I think Hal is the proof of the system's accomplishments and ability to be successful," says Herschel Weisfeld, the former homeless task force member who spends his days now as a cultural affairs commissioner for the city. "And what it also shows by his example is that it also takes the desire to want to change, because he obviously had that desire to change."
There are no random occurrences, no bit players in Hal Samples' story. Everyone has a place, a purpose. The guy who walks into Prestige Ford might just be the biological father who left Samples' mother when he was 6 months old, never to be seen again. This happened in December 1992. Samples (his birth name is Harold Alfred Lindstrom IV) and his uncle Donny interviewed him for a job, before letting him know who they were.
Similar instances have happened so often to him--he also unwittingly flirted with one of his half-sisters at the same dealership--that it's not as bizarre as you might think. Not to Samples, anyway. He's come to expect it. He calls them "God moments."
Like the following one, the one where Samples' life seemed to come full circle and he forever cemented in his mind that helping the homeless was his calling.
When Samples was 15, his mother, Mary, decided she had finally had enough of her husband (Samples' adopted father). He'd knocked her around for the last time. She and Hal left Mesquite and took refuge at the home of her best friend, Barbara, on the other side of Lake Ray Hubbard.
Barbara's husband was named Bill, and he played an important role in Samples' life. Bill was a bear of a man, a 300-pound auto mechanic who was always working in his garage. Bill, a Vietnam veteran, nicknamed Samples "Halibi"--because he always had an excuse for any trouble he caused or found himself in.
Samples and his mother stayed with Bill and Barbara for a few weeks. Bill made sure the father never came back in the picture. "I went over there," Bill says, "and told him if he touched her again, I would bury him." That was that.
After they'd moved on, and after his mother's divorce, Samples lost track of Bill, the guy who gave him the nickname his mom still uses.
Flash forward 16 years. A few months ago, Samples came across a tall, shriveled man named William Dolphus Banks, a regal-sounding name for someone who was known on the street for giving the finger to the cops when they would roust him for sleeping outside. Something about Banks pulled Samples in.
"He's one of my favorites," Samples says. "I've taken maybe 100 photographs of this one guy alone. There was something just really cool about this guy. He's telling me he wants me to help find his daughter, try and get his photograph in the paper. He wants to be able to come back home for the holidays...He's an angry--but lovable; he's got a sort of Santa Claus thing about him--guy. He's harmless, too. He's just got a big bark."
There are two photographs of Banks in Samples' Hero to Zero show: One is simply a shot of his oversized boots, either the cause or the result of his foot problems. The other shows off his particular talent for flipping off police officers. This was the one that caught the eye of Samples' mother.
She'd flown in from Indiana to see Samples' first big solo show, just before Thanksgiving at the gallery at South Side on Lamar. Samples had told his mother what he'd been doing, but he hadn't been able to show her yet. They sat down to look at some of his work.
"Wait, wait, wait--go back," his mother instructed. "Is that Bill Banks?"
That's when it finally clicked. William Dolphus Banks was the same Bill Banks that had taken him and his mother in so many years ago. He'd lost maybe 100 pounds, but it was the same guy. Mary Gunther hadn't seen him in 13 years, but she recognized him immediately.
"He looks the same to me," she says. "I mean, he hasn't changed, really, looks-wise. It was just not what I expected to see. It just brought tears to my eyes. And I guess Hal just wasn't in it for that at the time, so he just didn't even register that he might actually know one of these people."
Two weeks after the discovery, Samples is sitting across from Bill at The Stewpot. Samples may not have known who Bill was when he was taking pictures of him, but Bill knew who Samples was the whole time. He just didn't want to tell him that he knew.
"You didn't know I was such an obnoxious motherfucker, did you?" Bill asks. The voice coming from behind his shaggy, yellowing mustache is just above a whisper. He is a third of his former self, his 311 pounds shrunk down to less than 200. "You didn't hear about me after I got crazy. I'm not a nice person."
As they talk about those weeks spent together years ago, Bill's eyes barely hold back tears. He blames them on being outside, the wind blowing too hard.
Bill's been on the street for a few years. His family is in Oklahoma--his sister, his daughter, her baby girl. He knows he made a mistake coming to Dallas. He arrived here without a job, money or a place to stay. Just a van. And now he doesn't even have that.
All he has is a worn piece of carpet he uses for a bed, and a crack in the wall behind a building to hide it in. Samples bought him a sleeping bag, but someone stole it.
"I've met very few people who give a shit here in Dallas," Bill says. "Makes me feel good to know someone cares."
But he needs more than just Samples' friendship. Samples knows that he can give Bill all the sleeping bags and coats and boots he can afford, but that isn't going to get him out of the hole. It just makes the hole nicer. Bill and others like him need professional help, a place to stay while they figure it out. They need a plan. They need the city.
"Is everyone going to get help? No," Samples says. "But what about that percentage of people that can benefit from what I benefited from? Having some mentorship and some focused attention on me and what my issues are and working with me. I guarantee you Bill could be fixing some cars somewhere in six months to a year."
The Dallas Police Department finally caught up with James 10 days after Samples delivered the stack of photos to the camp underneath that bridge on Northwest Highway. They found his body on December 20 not far from the camp, at the site on Harry Hines Boulevard where the city parks its sand trucks. He'd been beaten to death. So had his girlfriend, Alisa. She was 44. He was 50.
The police took Ted "Woodstock" Eason into custody as a suspect. Samples doesn't believe Woodstock had anything to do with it, but it's out of his hands now. The world they had made for themselves has quickly fallen apart. James is dead, Woodstock in jail. Carl and his uncle are still at the camp, drinking their way to a slow suicide. If they can get it together, they'll pack up and leave. To who knows where.
Bill Banks is moving on soon, too. Samples discovered that Veterans Affairs owed Bill $1,800 in 1986. With interest, that amount has almost doubled. He's arranged with Central Dallas Ministries' Larry James to find some transitional housing for Bill, something temporary until he can stand on his own. Bill might be fixing cars again earlier than anyone thought.
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SHOW ME HOW
It's Samples' biggest success to date, something concrete to build on. But there are plenty of smaller examples of the effect he's had in just a few months. It's those little things that keep him going. Like when he gave Red $10 to find Bill and give him the new sleeping bag he'd bought for him. Samples ran into Bill a few days later, and Bill thanked him for the sleeping bag. And the five bucks. Red knew how much Bill meant to Samples, so he split the money with him, even though that wasn't the original deal, even though he needed that money just as much as Bill did. Samples will take another 500 photos for moments like that.
Hero to Zero is spreading in small ways--and bigger ones, too. Jerry Reynolds has made the Prestige family of dealerships drop zones for clothing, shoes and blankets. Phil Romano, a longtime homeless advocate, is coming on board to lend his support. Central Dallas Ministries and A Friend Indeed Foundation are putting Samples in front of those who can effect real change--people with money, people with power over policy.
Whatever happens, he doesn't want or need the credit.
"Sometimes people are doing things for egos, and sometimes people are doing things because they really want to help," Samples says. "There's public services, private services; there's nonprofit, faith-based and all that sort of stuff. It's craziness, all the different things that are going on. I don't want any of that. I don't even know how to spell philanthropy right now. That's an industry, dude. And it's great. And it doesn't matter if it's helping the people that are helping the people, or it's helping the people, but somebody's getting helped. I just want to be the photographer guy that's got my own deal."