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Originally published March 4, 2014 at 9:16 PM | Page modified March 4, 2014 at 10:47 PM

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Homeless become the face of Union Gospel Mission clothes


Seattle Times staff reporter

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R.J. Burrows was let go from his job in February 2012. He said he spent the next year sending out 6,282 job applications, but only got one interview.

He has been homeless for about eight months.

“I think that for the most part ... they (the homeless) are not looked upon favorably,” said Burrows, who turns 57 Saturday. “And that’s not really a very godly way of looking at it because we’re all quantitatively and qualitatively equal.”

But now Burrows, who lives at Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission, is the face of a new clothing line with the same message.

The mission is launching an apparel line that it hopes will help people realize that the homeless are just like anyone else.

The line, called “Others Like Us,” has hoodies, T-shirts and hats for sale. Many of the items showcase the brand’s logo, a smiley face whose eyes and nose spell out OLU (Others Like Us).

The mission provides services “to hurting and homeless people,” according to its website. The services include transitional housing, emergency food and shelter, free dental care and addiction-recovery programs.

Proceeds from the apparel line will help support the mission’s programs and its partners, according to Sharon Thomas, the mission’s public-relations manager.

The fashion line is also “designed to break down barriers and tell stories that challenge our beliefs and humanize our homeless neighbors,” according to a mission news release.

Jeff Lilley, Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission president, said the idea for the line sprouted out of a conversation with his wife about how the homeless are treated.

Lilley said, “What we’re doing is trying to get people’s attention on the fact that people that we sometimes have a hard time making eye contact with, (that) we avoid when we come up to them on a street corner or an offramp, are individuals and human beings just like us.”

Some of the shirts now sport Burrows’ face. These shirts are limited, Thomas said, and other homeless individuals will be featured on subsequent shirts.

The hope is to expand the line by customizing and selling some of the clothes donated to the organization, Lilley said. Homeless individuals, he said, would work on the expanded project.

Although the official launch is Friday, shoppers can preorder gear through the fashion line’s website, www.shopOLU.com. The mission is also hosting a prelaunch party from 6 to 8 p.m. on Thursday at the Smith Tower, where merchandise will be sold.

The event is free, but guests must register for tickets online.

For Burrows, lending his face will help both himself and others.

As a self-described entrepreneur, he said putting his face on the clothing line is “recognition” for both himself and the mission, and will help others in “the whole entire scheme of the shelter.”

And third, he said: “I think it’s what the Lord wants me to do.”

Safiya Merchant: smerchant@seattletimes.com or 206-464-2299



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