A Southern California Internet star’s viral video of a homeless man using a cash donation to buy food for others has reached more viewers than any of his other YouTube hits — and it’s changed minds, the self-described “social experiment prankster” said Tuesday.
The video, posted Monday by Josh Paler Lin, shows him giving a man $100 on a 91 Freeway off-ramp in Anaheim. Lin hoped to catch the man spending the cash on booze, so he followed him around for an hour, camera in tow.
But the man, whose name is given only as Thomas, ends up buying food at a liquor store, walking to a park and giving it away to others who appear to be in need.
The act prompts Lin to hug him and apologetically explain his original motivations: to show how a homeless guy could waste a holiday gift.
“You thought I was going to get all smacked up drunk, huh?” Thomas says.
“There’s things money can’t buy,” Thomas says. “I get a happiness out of what I’m doing.”
Thomas explains that he recently became homeless when his mother and stepfather died within several weeks of each other and their condominium, where he was living, had to be sold.
“There’s a lot of people who are just victims of circumstance,” Thomas says in the video. “They didn’t go homeless because they’re lazy. … There’s a lot of good people who are homeless.”
On Tuesday, a day after the video was posted and had reached more than 6 million viewers, Lin had raised more than $36,000 on an Indiegogo.com fundraiser page that states the funds will give a “fresh start” to Thomas.
Lin has leveraged his following on nearly 700,000 YouTube users -- who may be more used to pranks such as simulated bathroom sex and faked public kidnappings -- in support of Thomas.
In an interview with KTLA, Lin said the experience of making the video with Thomas made him more inclined to do "positive" videos in future.
Lin said never planned to raise money for Thomas, but many commenters on the YouTube video wanted to contribute to help the man.
“I was going to catch him drinking beer and … say, ‘Bro, why’d you buy beer? I thought you needed food,’” Lin recalled.
Instead, Lin said, “My heart just melted.”
According to the Indiegogo page, Lin plans to buy a cellphone for Thomas so the two can stay in touch, and to help him get a place to call home and “get a career” so he can start “his new life.” More than 1,900 people had contributed by early Tuesday evening.
Lin said he wants to surprise Thomas with the huge financial news.
Meanwhile, the Orange County Internet star said he was already seeing a broad impact on social media among his followers and YouTube viewers who may have previously been inclined to judge all homeless people as being lazy or on drugs.
“There are lots of good people who are homeless,” Lin said.
“It completely changed my mindset and, I believe, touched a lot of people’s hearts and changed the way they think about people,” he continued. “You judge a person based on how he looks, but you never know who he really is till you actually know him.”
The video, and finding Thomas, represented perfect timing for “giving back” in the Christmas season, Lin said.