When the sun is up, William Girven blends in with Santa Monica’s workday pulse. He rides his bicycle in dress shirts and jeans, takes cigarette breaks outside Cross Campus and strikes up conversations with people on the street.

At night he sets down a large piece of cardboard in a parking lot and sleeps outside.

“Most people don’t believe I’m homeless,” he said.

Ralf-Rainer von Albedyhll was one of those people. An entrepreneur who rents space at the Colorado Avenue office community, von Albedyhll interacted with Girven during smoking breaks but never would have guessed his current housing situation.

“I assumed he lived around the corner or something,” von Albedyhll said. “Then, one day, I saw him on his bicycle with this big piece of cardboard, and I’m going, ‘What the hell is that?’”

Compelled by Girven, the entrepreneur learned that his new friend had been homeless for about five years. Girven wasn’t making enough money as an artist to support himself but continued drawing and painting anyway, eventually winding up on the streets of Santa Monica.

“You don’t make a decision to be an artist,” the septuagenarian said. “You’re born to it, and you just do it. No matter how far down you go, when you have purpose, you have a sense of self.”

Conversations with Girven inspired von Albedyhll to launch a website and a Kickstarter campaign, the proceeds of which will support an art exhibit of Girven’s work at Cross Campus and a documentary about everything that’s happened since the two met. The $50,000 crowdfunding drive wraps up May 3.

Earlier this month von Albedyhll spoke in Downtown Los Angeles at the annual BIL Conference, a TED-style event featuring a variety of innovators and advocates. He hopes the crowdfunding initiative and his talk will eventually help Girven get back on his feet.

“The idea is to inspire people,” he said. “If there’s enough exposure, then there’s a reasonable chance that we can pull this off.”

The making of the video about Girven that’s featured on theunlikelystory.us was somewhat serrendipitious. While participating in a focus group at Cross Campus, von Albedyhll met filmmaker and content producer Greg Bassenian, who agreed to assist in the effort.

Tim Dietrich, an Apple TV app developer, created an app in support of von Albedyhll’s charity project.

“All of these ingredients came together,” von Albedyhll said.

The entrepreneur is currently in the process of enlisting the help of volunteers to translate the trailer into 12 different languages.

As for Girven, he’s still homeless. According to von Albedyhll, he’s had access to laundry machines and showers at the Cloverfield Services Center run by OPCC, a Santa Monica-based social service agency. Girven spends time reading at Cross Campus, but he isn’t allowed to sleep there.

Girven’s primary task at the moment, von Albedyhll said, is making art for the upcoming exhibit.

“There’s genuine artistic talent,” von Albedyhll said.

jeff@www.smdp.com