Artist Goes Homeless for a Week to Raise Money, Awareness

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This weekend Yusef Ramelize (pictured above) began his "Homeless for One Week" project. He's going to do without his apartment -- a pretty nice one, it appears -- through next Sunday, as a way of raising awareness and funds for the Coalition for the Homeless.

A graphic artist and production coordinator by trade, the 32-year-old Ramelize has used other artistic projects to support causes -- including a "body art" show that raised money for breast cancer research. This project is more daunting. Last night he slept awhile on a bench in the Union Square train station and, when that proved too uncomfortable, got a three-hour cat nap at the 24 hour McDonald's nearby. "They kicked me out at 6 a.m. when they saw that I was sleeping," he says, but he's grateful that they let him stay as long as they did.

He tells us he was inspired by Fugee Pras' Michel's experiment with homelessness in L.A. and other similar adventurers whose names he couldn't call to mind. He has never actually been homeless -- except for "my 25th birthday, when I did it for one day just to see what it would be like" -- and he hastens to make clear that he knows "being homeless for a week can't compare to being homeless for a long period of time." He talked and texted to us on an iPhone, and friends have been passing him food at night, though nothing worth more than five dollars. But he carries no money and uses only such public facilities as are available to the indigent.

To prepare, Ramelize spent the past month interviewing homeless and formerly homeless men and women, and posting videos of their testimonials at his site. "It brings tears to my eyes," he says. "I can't believe that people do this for days and months and years... This is just, for me, making a small sacrifice."

Tonight he'll try and get shelter from the Grand Central Neighborhood Social Services Corporation, but if that doesn't work out, "I'll sleep on the floor or something."

This afternoon Ramelize stood in Union Square passing out flyers publicizing his cause. He is happy to report that, through early response to his site and his email campaign, he has already raised $2,785 for the Coalition (his goal is $5,000).

"I felt like I wanted to make an artistic sacrifice so that my sacrifice will help people to make their own sacrifices," he tells us. "I'm not saying that people should go homeless like me, but we all could contribute in our own unique way, may it be volunteering, etcetera... We depend on our government so many times to pull us out of problems. I'm not saying that the government don't have a big influence, but I feel that the government works for us, not the other way around. If we let the government and elected officials know that we care about homelessness, because they want our votes they're going to care about homelessness."

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