Amy La Porte and Nicole File are two forces of nature who are making the streets a kinder place. They’re the president and vice president, respectively, of Softer Streets, Inc., a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide “durable, water-resistant, insulated, easily portable sleeping mats to people experiencing homelessness.”
They’ve partnered with the Utah-based company Klymit to make these mats affordable for supporters of the cause. Amy is an Emmy-nominated writer, producer and reporter with university teaching experience and several years creating curriculae for CNN staff. Nicole is Senior Editor at the CNN Center in Atlanta, has won four Peabody Awards and has coordinated nationally and internationally broadcast segments on human trafficking and slavery.
The day after the three of us spoke at the CNN studios in New York City, Amy was one of only six employees to be awarded the prestigious Richard D. Parsons Community Impact Award for her leadership role with Softer Streets.
Bruce Weinstein: Amy, what prompted you to create Softer Streets Inc.?
Amy La Porte: When I first came to the United States from Australia, a country in which homelessness is not as pervasive, I was appalled by what I saw around my downtown Atlanta apartment. People were sleeping on soiled blankets or cardboard under underpasses.
I’m a high-mountain climber, and I know when you sleep outside, you have to protect yourself from the potentially deadly drainage of heat into the ground. A good mat helps you do that.
I knew I had to impart this knowledge when I saw the way people who were homeless were sleeping.
Weinstein: What was the next step?
La Porte: I kind of bootstrapped the whole thing and started handing out yoga mats because they’re affordable. Then something incredible happened. I began seeing those same mats weeks later, slung over the shoulders of the homeless people that I had given them to, and I realized that I needed to start taking other people’s money and expand this.
Then my guardian angel Nicole found out about it and started getting involved. I didn’t even ask her.
Nicole File: I’ve known Amy for years, having edited some of her work. I knew Amy to be an absolute bulldog when it comes to getting a job done. It will be done well. It will stay done. And obstacles are really just entertainment to her.
Weinstein: When I first saw your Facebook page for Softer Streets and read that you deliver mats, the first image that came to mind was one of those thin blue yoga mats. But on your website I saw that you’re using a high-end camping mat instead.
File: We’ve both tried them out. I am not quite the adventurous person that Amy is, so I tried one out in my house in Georgia. I can confirm it’s comfortable! In fact, I wound up sleeping on it for a week. It’s actually a pleasure to sleep on. It’s very warm. In the outdoors where it gets chilly, it’s the perfect thing.
“Our goal is to provide some comfort, but also basic human dignity. Sleeping on the ground when you’re homeless is a dehumanizing situation to be in.”