Santander has created an AR app to help educate you on the hard truth about homelessness.
Here is some staggering and shocking data for you: 25% of the homeless population are actually hard-working people with full-time jobs. Sometimes known as the ‘working poor’, these individuals face the harsh reality of the rising cost of living all while their wage growth remains stagnant.
One of the strongest arguments for the use of AR and VR outside of gaming, is that it has the ability to be an empathy incubator, allowing users the opportunity to step into the shoes of another person. This could be someone of the opposite sex, a person with a disability, or someone with a different view than you. Through AR and VR, we finally have the ability to experience the world from various perspectives.
In an AR experience entitled “In Someone Else’s Shoes”, you get a glimpse of the life of ‘Jen,’ a 35-year-old full-time nurse’s assistant. Because of the high cost of rent, Jen lives in her car. Each day presents a new challenge that threatens her teetering financial situation; just one parking ticket or smashed window and Jen could find herself at the breaking point.
The experience, created by Boston’s Santander Bank alongside Arnold Worldwide, begins with a short film that introduces you to Jen as she wakes from another long night of sleeping in her car. From there the film switches over to AR giving you a new perspective in which to experience Jen’s story.
As you watch Jen go about her routine — getting dressed for work, dealing with a car break-in, and returning to her car only to find a wheel clamp on it — you begin to understand the challenges she faces . Users can move around the car to inspect every detail of the scene, all while listening to Jen talk about her background, some of the rules she’s learned from living on the streets in her car, and of course the stress of her desperate situation.
A short film from the “In Someone Else’s Shoes” official website focuses on the real reactions from individuals participating in the AR experience. The responses are nothing short of heartbreaking as you see participants begin to empathize with Jen on an emotional level.
Janelle Brown, host of Tell Me Everything, a podcast that focuses on the fact that every individual has a unique story that defines them, downloaded Santander’s “In Someone Else’s Shoes” app and told VRScout, “It’s an extremely unique and powerful opportunity for people to truly walk in other people’s shoes,” adding, “many times in real life, we are afforded the opportunity to walk on by those asking for help or those who are homeless because it makes us uncomfortable.”
Though the AR experience uses an actor, the scenario is very real, and her story is one of many. “Visual has power,” said Brown.
In hopes of making a change, Santander invited people throughout Boston to help the working homeless by using a pedometer app to track their steps. In return, Santander would donate $10 for every mile participants walked. An incredible 4,801 people participated in the event, raising an astonishing $200,000 for organizations such as Heading Home, a Boston based nonprofit that has been pioneering programs to end homelessness in the Boston area for four decades. In the end, the money was able to assist 200 people in need.
Since 2016, many organizations have turned to AR and VR as a way to expose people to new and different perspectives. For example, the United Nations used VR for Clouds Over Sidra, which resulted in an increase in funds to help refugees. Testimony, another very powerful VR experience, was used to tell the stories of sexual assault survivors and help other victims build the courage needed to step forward and tell their own stories. Most recently, the Red Cross used AR to show the harsh reality of war and its effect on children with Enter The Room.
During our conversation with Brown regarding AR and empathy, the podcast host is flooded with memories of a traumatic experience from her own life that involved the birth of her first child. Brown says, “My daughter’s birth was traumatic – and there were some serious issues with her health.” With doctors focused primarily on her newborn baby’s health, Brown wasn’t able to see her or hold her child for 3 excruciating days. While medical staff were busy with her daughter, Brown felt like an empty husk.
Brown discusses how when she tells the story of her daughter’s birth to other mothers, she can tell who has experienced trauma of their own. “I can see them reliving the feelings they had when they had their traumatic birth.” But what bothers Brown the most, and where she thinks AR could possibly help, is when someone who hasn’t had this type of life-changing event nonchalantly responds with, “well, she’s healthy now.” To her, it feels like they are just sweeping her ordeal under the carpet as if it were no big deal. AR could assist them in better understanding the confusion and fear Brown faced.
“This all hits close to what we’re talking about and you really don’t know it until you live it,” states Brown.
That is exactly what Santander hopes people will be thinking after their time with “In Someone Else’s Shoes.” Instead of sweeping the issue of homelessness under the carpet, they hope the AR experience will help deliver a fresh perspective, as well as new-found motivation to help make a change.
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Image Credit: Arnold Worldwide