After Miley Cyrus brought 22-year-old homeless man Jesse Helt to the 2014 VMAs — and had him accept her Video of the Year award and speak on stage about homelessness in L.A. — the aspiring model was thrust into the public eye in a big way.
His newfound celebrity earned him the attention of the cops in his native Oregon, where he had a warrant out for his arrest, and, subsequently, imprisonment after he turned himself into the cops late Thursday. Still, My Friend’s Place — the organization through which Cyrus met Helt and now supports — is hopeful that Cyrus’ support of both Jesse and the cause will help draw attention to the plight of young homeless people across the U.S. and will lead to a positive outcome.
“All we want for these young people is to find the opportunities to step into resolving issues — to be able to take accountability and move forward with their lives,” Heather Carmichael, executive director of My Friend’s Place, told MTV News. “That is scary for everybody, to hold ourselves responsible for the mistakes we’ve made. To be able now to have the resources to maybe take this on and resolve it in partnership with whatever adult steps in, as scary as that might be for [Jesse]… I hope this an opportunity to change the stage he gets to stand on in his own life.”
“If he now has a friend in Miley that’s going to help him do this, what a brilliant outcome,” she added.
After the VMAs, word got out that Helt was arrested in 2010 for criminal mischief and criminal trespass in 2010 when he allegedly tried to break into an apartment in the course of a dispute over marijuana, according to ABC News. Helt pleaded guilty, but violated probation in 2011. Thursday, however, Helt turned himself in in Dallas, Oregon, according to the AP, and posted bail. Cyrus, in turn, has offered to pay his legal fees and has stood by the man throughout it all.
People who are homeless have lived very hard lives. Jesse included.
— Miley Ray Cyrus (@MileyCyrus) August 26, 2014
According to Carmichael, Miley met Jesse the week before the VMAs after she contacted My Friend’s Place, a homeless resource center in L.A. for young people, about getting involved.
“There was not a moment that she flinched away from somebody approaching her,” Carmichael said. “I just think that shows tremendous grounding and willingness. Following that experience our team just approached a handful of young people that we felt like could help educate her from both a personal, but also kind of ‘What are your peers going through?’ perspective. The intention was not to talk about the individual experience, but about the community of youth — particularly in Los Angeles. So a handful of youth came back and spoke with her and that’s where she was introduced to Jesse.”
Carmichael said that she wants to retain Jesse’s privacy, but she told MTV News that his situation is not an unusual one — for youth on the street, having a criminal record is not novel.
“Picture yourself coming into homelessness,” she said. “Maybe you would walk into a local liquor store that looked like it had the least amount of surveillance to steal a candy bar. Or maybe you wanted to sleep on the train because you felt like it was going to be public enough that you could sleep without getting hurt and you didn’t pay for that fare and then you get busted for fare evasion. You miss that court date, and now you have a warrant. If you’re not a young adult that’s been brought up in a community or family that’s like, ‘You have to take care of business, show up,’ it just gets so much more complicated so quickly.”
In short: It becomes a kind of cycle. Homelessness leads to a struggle to survive, which leads to run-ins with the law, with lead to legal issues that people in their teens and early 20s don’t know how to deal with. (For the record, Jesse’s parents have come forward and said that they didn’t know Helt was homeless and they would have helped him if he had called.)
“Here we’re saying, ‘Oh my gosh, these young people should be doing this on their own’ — [it] just seems break-your-heart on one level, and what a great way not to take responsibility as a community,” Carmichael said. “Then they get in trouble and it’s like, ‘Look at those darn criminals.’ This has been the set-up for these young people to head in this direction. If nobody intervenes, welcome to the underbelly of our life.”
Carmichael sees Cyrus’ involvement as a definite plus when it comes to that needed intervention.
“What I’m really hoping comes out of this is if [because of] Miley’s presence and conversation around this… people start to listen so that there are fewer people that end up on the streets,” she said. “If this crafts new opportunities to change their lives, why wouldn’t everybody jump in and start to have a constructive conversation versus a destructive conversation? Why would we turn this to be a negative? That’s befuddling.”