Homeless man spreads awareness, donates to local nonprofits

-A A +A
By Rachel Christian

According to a 2016 report by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, over half a million people in America go to bed homeless.

Timothy B. Watt is one of them, and he is on a mission to bring awareness to that statistic and homelessness in Indiana.

Last week, Watt – self-nicknamed “Harry the Homeless Hippie” – stood at the corner of Fourth and Main Streets in Mount Vernon, seeking donations from passersby. Posey County was the 71st stop on his full 92-county tour that he plans to wrap up in Indianapolis this October.

“Most people don’t realize they’re only a paycheck or two from being on the streets,” said the 58-year-old. “I know I didn’t.”

Born in Gary, Indiana, Watt became homeless in 2013, after his wife of 22 years left him. In time, the lifelong Hoosier lost his business, his car and his home as he struggled with bouts of anxiety and depression.

“I always thought people with those issues should just snap out of it and pull themselves up by their boot straps,” he said, “until it happened to me.”

Watt ended up on the streets of Indianapolis four years ago, and sought help from the local Veteran’s Association. But the former Marine said he soon noticed the many flaws in most homeless assistance programs.

“It felt like I was just getting bounced around from one person to another,” he said. “They were using a one-size-fits-all approach that doesn’t work for everyone. It felt like there was no central direction, and that only fed into the depression and anxiety even more.”

That’s why a year later, Watt decided to remain homeless by choice in order to spread awareness, spending a week in each of Indiana’s 92 counties and two weeks in the state’s ten largest cities.

Watt takes part of his panhandling revenue and divvies it out as donations to area nonprofits. During his time in Mount Vernon, he raised $532, which he split into nine separate $58 donations to organizations like the United Way.

Watt said he experienced kindness and generosity from the residents of Posey County during his stay. On May 7, he attended all the Sunday services at the First United Methodist Church. The congregation set up a collection for the Marine vet, which allowed him to donate more money before he left. 

“Overall in my travels, I’ve found most people to be extremely kind. It’s been amazing,” he said. “A lot of people don’t realize all the struggles that go along with being homeless, but most are very willing to learn.”

Watt hopes to write a book about his travels and experiences after he completes his sojourn in the fall. He also wants to remain an advocate for homeless rights and assistance at the state level.

Harry the Homeless Hippie departed Mount Vernon last Tuesday, and is now residing in downtown Evansville until next week. To keep up on Watt’s journey, visit his public Facebook page at www.facebook.com/TimothyBWatt