Miley Cyrus was at a turning point in her life after a performance as a gyrating teddy bear at the 2013 Video Music Awards generated mockery and endless media coverage. “It seemed wrong that I had so much attention, and there were so many people in the country that didn’t have a place to call home,” Cyrus says. “I wanted to bring attention to what was really important.”
The next year, she attended the VMAs with a 22-year-old homeless man named Jessie Helt, who went onstage to accept Cyrus’ Video of the Year award, delivering a speech about homelessness in front of 13.7 million viewers. The gesture was inspired by the 1973 Oscars, at which Marlon Brando sent Native American activist Sacheen Littlefeather to decline his award.
|Warwick Saint for Variety|
“I thought it was the best thing I’d ever seen,” Cyrus says. “Finally, someone made it not about them.”
Enter the Happy Hippie Foundation, which Cyrus founded in 2014 as a nonprofit to provide basic needs and support to homeless youth, the LGBTQ community, and other vulnerable populations. The group, working with the Los Angeles-based My Friend’s Place, has donated 40,000 meals, 20,000 snacks, and 40,000 pairs of underwear and socks to homeless kids over the past two years.
Happy Hippie has partnered with Gender Spectrum to create support groups for 1,300 transgender and gender-expansive youth and their families; MAC AIDS Fund, to help transgender people living with HIV in L.A. and San Francisco find medical care and housing; and the Zebra Coalition, which offered immediate counseling and support in the aftermath of last summer’s Orlando nightclub shooting.
Cyrus has been the organization’s voice and embodies its spirit; this includes handing out bottles of water and graham crackers to homeless people she passes on the street.
“I just think I found a purpose to do things,” says Cyrus, who serves as a mentor on NBC’s “The Voice” and recently released an album of 23 songs — free
“That’s what I wanted to do. That’s what made me happy. And that’s what Happy Hippie is about: doing what you do, being happy, and not hurting anyone. It gave me meaning in everything.”