Seeing like a homeless

The story of Mike Williams, recently published on NPR, narrates how a successful inventor   became a homeless man in Sacramento. You can read the full story here.

Once an inventor of medical technologies, Williams ran into a series of events that saw him lose his house, his car and end up in a dumpster. “I found out that I was really nothing, and that was very hard for me to grasp; the fact that no one wanted me around,” he says. “I was something nobody wanted to see or be involved in, and that crushed me.”

A visit to the emergency room after being beaten and robbed in a park, introduced him to Dr. Jong Chen who treated his wounds. After a few conversations, Chen decided to help the inventor get back on his feet. Williams came up with the idea of a temporary shelter for homeless people, just 6 by 6 feet long with a bed and a chemical toilet; a helpful invention even for FEMA-related emergencies or for airport travelers.


They key to the story lies in how some circumstances bring humbling lessons for us. No success is guaranteed to last, and some events lead us to develop empathy for people in unfortunate circumstances. Williams had once designed the first intra-oral camera when he asked his dentist if he could see his own tooth only to be given a mirror, not a camera, so he invented one. The lesson I take is to identify circumstances around me that can create opportunities to invent something new, or to help others.

Williams’s pod shelter may or may not find success in the market, but the experience of living on the streets made him see things differently and take action to try to improve other people’s lives so they don’t have to suffer as much.

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