‘Miles of Kindness:’ Former Centralia Man to Debut Documentary on Homelessness After Cross-Country Journey


When people get settlement checks, they usually don’t decide to make a documentary with the money. 

But for 38-year-old Jason Smith, a Centralia native and former emergency medical technician who now works in the home loan industry and resides in Arizona, that’s exactly what he decided to do. 

His documentary, “Miles of Kindness,” explores what it’s like living on the streets for the hundreds of thousands of people experiencing homelessness across the country. Smith plans on debuting the film at McFiler’s Chehalis Theater on July 23. Times have yet to be announced. 

“I was in Skid Row in L.A., Tenderloin in San Francisco, Eight Mile in Detroit. I was in some of the worst of the worst places you could possibly go and trying to share just a little insight of day-to-day life through the voices of the people,” Smith said. 

Before showing it in Chehalis, he plans on initially debuting the documentary in June at the Arizona Financial Theatre in Phoenix. 

Originally, he planned to buy a van and go on a road trip as part of therapy to help deal with post traumatic stress disorder from traumatic experiences during his career as an EMT.

“But as I thought about it more, I thought, ‘You know, if I’m gonna go on a van trip and really do this, I want to do something that helps bring healing to my life, that helps inspire my community and puts good back into the world,” Smith said. 

During his time as an EMT, he worked extensively with people experiencing homelessness. He said he made the documentary to help shed light on the many paths to homelessness as well as the many issues those without homes face. What he learned is that no two stories were really ever the same. 

Having worked for 13 years as an EMT, Smith had to call it quits after he was severely injured when the ambulance he was in was struck in a multi-car collision caused by a driver in a pickup truck high on cocaine running a light in a residential neighborhood at 85 mph in Phoenix.

The driver ended up getting sentenced to five years in prison following a plea deal, which also resulted in a $10,000 payment for Smith.

After purchasing a 1995 GMC Safari cargo van and fixing it up with the settlement money in 2018, he decided to go on a six-month road trip funded entirely off the generosity of others. He quit his job and set out on the road. 

“In six month’s time, roughly, I was able to travel through 42 states, over 100 major U.S. cities and over 17,500 miles, all from the kindness and generosity of others,” Smith said. “The goal was to see how far I could go off the kindness of others, how kind we are to each other throughout the country, and then I wanted to highlight issues in the homeless community as both I faced them and then as the folks I met along the way told me their stories.” 

To catch genuine generosity, he ensured the cameras he used when panhandling were hidden. He was helped by three different camera operators throughout different stages in his trip. 

He experienced both positive and negative events. He said he was assaulted and robbed. He was also detained by police for panhandling — an act that has been outlawed or limited in many cities around the country. On the positive side, he said he experienced people who looked poor themselves giving him the last dollars out of their own wallets. 

He documented a lot of the stories of those he met in both homeless shelters and on the streets. One woman living on the streets in Florida was suffering from bug bites that had gotten so bad on her legs, flesh was starting to rot. She said she was stuck on the streets due to the homeless shelter turning her away after she was assaulted by men in the shelter. 

“It was easier for (the shelter) to say, instead of dealing with the problem, ‘Just please don’t come here.’ She was put into a position where she had to sleep on the streets at night, so her legs continued to rot and fester” Smith said. 

Another man he met in Kentucky was paralyzed at the age of 22 after falling out of a tree, leaving him in a wheelchair. After an infection took root in his hips a couple years later, he had to have both legs amputated. 

There was also a 23-year-old woman he met who had been homeless since she was 10 with her mom, who would drug her and prostitute her to get more drug money when she was still a teenager. 

“Now we have generational homelessness,” Smith added. 

These are just a few of the many stories Smith found out about and will be included in “Miles of Kindness.” Because there are so many paths to homelessness, Smith acknowledged he doesn’t really know what a good solution would be, even after his time on the road. 

“There’s many programs out there. There’s many proposed solutions. But I don’t have the answer to solve homelessness. What I do have is a platform that poses a question, and when you pose a question, you now are initiating conversation,” Smith said. “Conversation leads to planning and action. So hopefully, (Miles of Kindness) will at least inspire people to have conversations.”

In addition to the documentary, Smith also documented his trip in his Facebook page titled Jason’s Most Excellent Van Adventures. 

The page has over 2,500 followers. During the trip, followers raised money to pay for 18 tents, which he gave away, as well as a new bicycle for a man named John Peck who Smith met on the trip and is still friends with.

As for why the documentary is coming out now after being filmed in 2018, Smith said he would’ve edited it himself but didn’t know how, and once the pandemic started in 2020, he decided to wait as no theaters were open then to show it. 

All proceeds from the showings at McFiler’s Chehalis Theater in July will be given to the Salvation Army, Smith said. 

For more information, contact Smith at his Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100047774871640.