There are more than 19,000 homeless people in Massachusetts, according to 2016 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development data, and Derek Cummings thinks those individuals are far too often overlooked.
That fact is more than just a number to Cummings, a Boston entertainer who goes by “Big D.” He’s known a lot of people who have experienced homelessness, he said, and when he heard his friends’ stories, he was inspired to do something around the issue.
“I wanted to paint a picture for people to really see what’s going on,” he said.
As an entertainment artist, the natural solution was to create a song. Cummings partnered with the Massachusetts Housing & Shelter Alliance, a nonprofit that focuses on advocacy to end chronic homelessness, for the release of the track, called “Help the Homeless.”
The song is available on iTunes for $1, and 100 percent of proceeds will go to MHSA and its mission to end homelessness.
“It’s all about helping each other,” Cummings said. “At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how much money or fame you have, we’re all the same, and that’s the main message I'm pushing in the song.”
Cummings wrote the track from the perspective of someone who is homeless. “People walk past me everyday, they don't even wanna look me in the face,” he says in the track.
Ahead of recording, he visited shelters like St. Francis and Pine Street Inn, donating clothing and hearing more people’s stories.
He even met a few musicians who said they would love to see Cummings’s studio and learn about the recording process. He plans on bringing a few of them in to “show them the ropes.”
To Joe Finn, president and executive director of MHSA, sharing this song is about more than the potential donations.
“I think it’s very important [because] we cannot become totally desensitized to the issue of homelessness, and yet, at times — given our own tenuous economic situation or whatever difficulties —we have a tendency to make it ‘other,’” he said.
“What really struck me about [Cummings’s song] was what he was doing was humanizing people that often times others just simply walk by,” he added.
Finn acknowledged that in Boston, Mayor Marty Walsh has focused on ending homelessness by creating more housing options and efforts to get the chronically homeless out of shelters.
Chronic homelessness means that the shelters aren’t being used just as an emergency option but as someone’s main housing — MHSA just helped house someone who has been living in a homeless shelter for 30 years, Finn said.
But despite those efforts, more can always be done, Finn added. Even if it’s just raising awareness, as Cummings does in this song, of the humans behind the homelessness.