On June 20, Leslie Minora published a story on Unfair Park about a guy, Benny Barret, who was purportedly choosing to live as a homeless person so that he could better document the lives of the homeless. It was titled “Benny Barret Is Homeless(ish).” Minora was taken missed a big part of the story. Our own Claire St. Amant, assistant managing editor of People Newspapers, explains:
The True Tale of Benny B
By Claire St. Amant
When the Dallas Observer interviewed Benny Barret (note the one t) and dubbed him “homeless(ish),” I read the piece with interest. This wasn’t the first time I’d come across Benny, though it was the first time I noticed him spelling his name that way.
I once worked as an editor at Baylor’s student paper, The Lariat. During my time there, a couple reporters were sniffing around the Benny-Barrett-is-homeless shtick. Even with a whopping two semesters as a paid journalist under my belt, I called B.S. Of course, back then Benny didn’t have his story so fine tuned. He was actually trying to pass himself off as homeless, secretly living in a study carrel in the library.
A few conversations with the office of financial aid, the dean of student life, and professors in the honors college proved the story was far from accurate. Despite the eagerness with which the reporters had written the tale of Benny B, we killed the story. A couple of weeks later, in May 2008, we all graduated. And I thought that would be the last I’d hear of anyone posing as homeless for attention. Enter the Observer article.
Now, to Benny’s credit, the story of his using homelessness for a social experiment of sorts has a lot more traction. He’s had four years to find a hook that works on the media, and he finally caught a big fish named Leslie Minora. Smooth talking Benny-with-one-t reeled in Minora while wearing a Baylor Classics Department T-shirt and carrying an iPhone. Nice work.
I’m not arguing that Benny isn’t obsessed with homelessness. He clearly is. But there’s a pretty big difference between a healthy obsession and what Benny’s doing. Instead of helping the down-and-out with job training or a hot meal, Benny is reveling in their poverty. He’s using those who have nothing to get his 15 minutes of fame.
Of course, Benny is no stranger to the spotlight. In addition to duping the 2009 staff at The Lariat into running a profile of him that is eerily similar to the one we shot down the year before, Benny has had at least one run-in with the law. In July 2011, Waco Police were called to Benny’s house because he was running around the street naked. By the time officers arrived, he’d climbed a tree. Benny admitted to being under the influence of alcohol and Ambien, but his roommates told police they suspected he was on something else. I’d tell you more, but the report has been redacted.
To be honest, I’m glad to have an excuse to stop talking about Benny. I didn’t want to write about him four years ago, and I wish I didn’t have to write about him now. The true tale of Benny B is far sadder and more disturbing than the homeless(ish) version.