Paul Walker Was Homeless in College: Sent Hate Mail for ‘Shelter’ Movie

Paul WalkerFive years ago, Paul Walker approached a social worker about making a documentary to be called Shelter, depicting the homeless population in his hometown of Santa Barbara. After an in-depth discussion, social worker Ken Williams realized what was motivating the Fast & Furious star to undertake this serious project which resulted in him being sent hate mail. Walker had lived on the streets when he was a student at California Community College.

In the wake of his tragic death, many fans have learned of Walker’s love for marine biology and knew that he majored in this field at California Community College. What comes as a shock is that during this important time in his life, he was homeless.

Walker approached Williams about a proposed documentary with his friend and business partner Brandon Birtell who was a student at California Community College with Walker. Williams said that both Birtell and Walker told him they had lived as homeless men while in college and felt very close to this issue which was why they wanted to make the documentary.

“Brandon mentioned that he had been living out of his car and a lot of students lived out of cars or in homeless shelters,” Williams said. He also added that Birtell cited high tuition rates, high rent rates and the ineffectiveness of food stamps.

Walker and Birtell told Williams that this was a brief time in their life but that they realized how big of an issue it was. They added that many people will be subjected to this lifestyle for virtually their entire lives.

Williams said that the subject of the homeless clearly bothered both men. He also added that, in Santa Barbara, you can see this kind of poverty all of the time and that the number of homeless people who are also mentally ill is unbelievably heartbreaking.

The plans for the documentary proceeded in 2009 when this trio went out shooting film. They centered their efforts on detailing the daily lives of four homeless people they befriended.

The four chosen included three women and one old blind man. All four were being helped by Ken Williams’ social service team, but were still sleeping in tough places that were tortuously rugged.

Walker and Birtell tried to follow Williams as much as possible so that the homeless would not know they were being filmed, so much as just having a conversation with the day to day people they normally meet.

Paul Walker
Paul Walker

A major reason Walker and Birtell chose Santa Barbara was also to contrast the unbelievable poverty of these homeless people with such outstanding wealth in the community. Despite being homeless themselves when they were in college, Walker and Birtell received hate mail during and after the completion of this project.

Williams said that many people see the homeless and think they are lepers, but that Walker and Birtell treated them with compassion and also helped in amazing ways. One story paints them as actually carrying the old blind man, whom Williams says is named “Pops,” into a shelter.

Williams also spoke of Walker’s supreme generosity as a friend. Although he was also filming Fast & Furious through this process, he found the time to come to a book release party for Williams. Williams said he was always casual and never perceived himself to be higher than the situation.

Walker’s time as a homeless youth clearly was a point of impact in his life. What he saw and experienced during his Santa Barbara college years influenced him to make his documentary Shelter which did become controversial and prompted hate mail to be written to both Walker and his friend, Birtell. Walker’s time as a homeless college student is a remarkable part of the major film star’s celebrated life.

By Nick Manai


Daily Mail

Belfast Telegraph


7 Responses to "Paul Walker Was Homeless in College: Sent Hate Mail for ‘Shelter’ Movie"

  1. Mayeth Malabuyoc   December 14, 2017 at 11:28 am

    OMG! May you Rest in Peacefully/Happiness in Heaven
    Paul Williams Walker 1V
    #You Are Always In Our Heart Forever “

  2. mimi miller   March 14, 2014 at 9:40 am

    I wss homeless for a few months back in 2005…it was horrific. Thank God I was able to climb out of it. It was very hard to function without what most people take for granted. I had difficulty getting employment because of my appearance (no where to shower…lack of hygeine)it was also difficult to get work due to my main focus being shifted to survival. It took great effort daily just to find food and a place to sleep…even tho I had a car. There are very few places that allow you to sleep in your car! I made it due to the kind acts of strangers…..that are now my friends! God bless! Love one another.

  3. Tamara Dahl   March 4, 2014 at 3:07 pm

    I continue to be amazed by this man. And yet he is not here today to continue his beautiful deeds. I presume it was time for him to rest and time for all of us to learn what we needed to do. Carry on. But I do have one question. Why was he homeless when his parents were alive and well and living in the area?

  4. joaquina Moses   December 14, 2013 at 9:23 am

    It is amazing to even think of Paul Walker being homeless for a second. Because he lived as a homeless person even for a minute he knew exactly how they live and kinda what they felt on a daily bases. What it shows is he has a heart of gold for the underdog. May he fly high up in the sky with all the angels. Now i am going to down load the movie to see all the hard work that was put into this movie so others can see what it is to be homeless even for a minute. Paul’s kindness with truly be missed by many.

  5. Juanita   December 9, 2013 at 12:58 pm

    so where can we watch this movie?

  6. mytorpor   December 9, 2013 at 12:04 pm

    Proof positive that there ARE human beings just like us working in Hollywood, but their press office turns them into ‘gods’ who have always led charmed lives. I prefer to know th reality of their lives and more than a few of them, evidently Walker was not one of those, need to be reminded of their roots more often.

  7. Juana Poareo   December 9, 2013 at 10:07 am

    This helped me see Paul Walker in a different light. I liked how you demonstrated his interest in doing the documentary based on his own personal experience. Good story, Nick 🙂

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