Skip to main content

Draper Journal

Draper father-son duo continue to fight homelessness with empathy

Oct 24, 2019 01:12PM ● By Mimi Darley Dutton

The Hansens teamed up with two tech companies to take 40 volunteers to Catholic Community Services. Those volunteers used questions designed by middle school students as conversation starters to get to know homeless people and understand their experiences. (Photo courtesy John Hansen)

By Mimi Darley Dutton | [email protected]

Chase Hansen and his dad, John Hansen, are chasing a dream. 

They envision a kinder, more empathetic world. They’ve chosen to focus their efforts to that end primarily on the homeless population. At just 10 years of age, Chase has started a nonprofit and has interacted with 131 homeless people one-on-one to build interpersonal relationships.

The impetus for their work came in 2017 after Mayor Troy Walker proposed having a homeless shelter in Draper. “The mayor said we’ll take in family shelters…a bunch of Draper City didn’t want that. That’s when me and my dad started thinking how can we help the homeless?” Chase said. The Hansens spoke with the mayor and started working on Project Empathy. The idea was to facilitate sit-down talks between a homeless person and a non-homeless person, “to make meaningful connections to help people,” Chase explained.

Empathy is defined as identification with and understanding of the thoughts or feelings of another. “Empathy is a practice,” John Hansen said, adding that their goal is to develop a prototype to drive mass connection and interpersonal relationships. Hansen cited Brené Brown, researcher on topics including courage, vulnerability and empathy, as one of his inspirations because of her lessons on having courage and being brave. 

“I want to see people in Salt Lake County — and in our state — uplift homelessness and at Project Empathy, we see how other people think and learn. Being more friendly, saying hello, getting people off their phones — how everybody connects and helps each other. I want to see the state do that with the homeless population. If you say ‘hi’ to 10 homeless people, you’ll be grateful with short conversations. It makes a difference in people’s lives, shows them people care for them. I want to see people coming together and creating a stronger community,” Chase told the Draper City Council.

“You find interesting people you might have a connection with. That’s the same with homeless people — they just want to be treated like humans. Embrace them in the community. Project Empathy is a group of people who like to listen and ask little questions like ‘What’s your dream job?’” Chase said.

Chase and his dad have not only listened to and empathized with homeless people, they’ve also helped when they can including learning about a homeless artist’s “meaningful poems” and connecting that homeless man with his mother. Chase cited the artist’s poems as an example of how a homeless person can lift themself up. The Hansens are still in touch with him today. 

Recently, the Hansens worked with two tech companies, Jimmy Johns and Lime Scooters to host an event at Catholic Community Services, where they took a group of more than 40 listeners equipped with questions designed by middle school children to use as conversation starters with people struggling with homelessness.

The father and son also helped a homeless man find employment with Lucky’s in West Jordan and they set up a pod behind a grocery store to allow a chronically homeless man in a wheelchair to move off the street while he waits for housing. “That’s creating marvelous results in a low-cost manner. We’re working on getting neighbors involved in the rest of his story,” Hansen said. 

The duo have begun taking homeless men fishing or up into the mountains to study the effect that might have. Chase has spoken in front of the Salt Lake City Council and he’s met with Sean Reyes, attorney general of Utah. And he was recently selected as one of four young people to speak to the Utah School Counselor Association about what he’s doing to make the world a better place, what obstacles he’s encountered, and his advice to school counselors. 

“It is interesting to see how he grows and how he continues to gain confidence and a bank of knowledge to talk about the importance of serving and human connection,” Hansen said about his son. 

Future plans for Chase and his dad include learning how “to train more people to deploy more listening experiences around empathy,” Hansen said. 

They are supported in their work by Chase’s mom, Torrie Hansen, and extended family including grandparents. They’ve also enlisted help from churches, businesses and student body officers at universities. 

Chase was chosen as Community Member of the Year by the City Journals for 2018 and honored at their annual awards banquet.