SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — Raw images captured by 13-year Navy service member Matt O'Connor began last year following work-related stress.
"It prevented me from sleeping, so instead of being cooped up in the house, I'd either go for a drive or power walk," O’Connor said.
Those walks near his downtown San Diego residence would soon turn into close connections he never saw coming, with those facing homelessness, many of whom were once active duty, just like him.
"I'm not shy. I'll talk to anyone if they approach me, so I started talking to people and listening to their stories, I'd ask them, 'How'd you end up here?' It turned into something mutually therapeutic," O'Connor described.
That's when an idea came into focus, and a simple gesture turned into something big.
"I was like, ‘OK, I'm going to make a goal of $10,000 to donate.’ I don't know how but I'm going to sell pictures, so I picked up a Nikon and watched a couple of YouTube videos then started taking pictures of folks,” said O’Connor.
Those images came together in a book that provided a window into an un-sheltered community.
"I said $300 will get you a book and they sold out in a week and a half; I could barely keep up,” he said.
Before O'Connor knew it, he raised $10,000 and was looking for worthy recipients. He credits the subjects of his photos for pointing him to the Alpha Project.
"They told me, 'They do great work with veterans, you should look into them,’” said O’Connor.
For 35 years, the Alpha Project has provided housing and resources for veterans and those homeless when, and if they're ready to transition.
The Alpha Project matched O’Connor’s donation and are now waiting for him to return from his current tour so they can work with him.
"We need his ideas, his passion. I'm going to wait for him to come back with ideas and we're going to build on that," said Bob McElroy, Alpha Project's president.
To purchase O'Connor's book or to donate to the Alpha Project, contact them by visiting https://www.alphaproject.org/.