#HomelessAndTweetingAboutIt: What Today’s Homeless Really Need
Photo Credit: Postcard Junky WordPress
According to the U.S. Conference of Mayor’s 2008 report, “12 of the 25 [US] cities surveyed reported an increase in homelessness due to foreclosures…” And it’s not slowing down. A 2012 report by the National Alliance to End Homelessness found that “foreclosure activity continued to increase with nearly 50,000 more homes in foreclosure in 2010 than in 2009.”
“Homelessness” is difficult to quantify, but there’s no denying that this problem, temporary or long-term, is on the rise–and today’s homeless need access to technology more than ever.
After basic necessities like food, water, hygienic supplies, and shelter; connection to technology is becoming increasingly important for the less fortunate. It might seem bizarre to think of a homeless man browsing the web or making calls from a personal cell phone, but the potential benefits: access to food stamps, housing applications, connection with family and friends, medical appointments, access to news or information–make sense. Jahmeilah Roberson and Bonnie Nardi, researchers at the University of California (Irvine) Department of Informatics, emphasized this in a recent study. They noted that “cell phones were important to survival because of the connections they provided in securing jobs and adhering to requirements of funding and rehabilitation programs.”
A recent government-sponsored Project REACH’s mobile app contest was designed to address the issue. They asked contestants to create an app that gives volunteers and homeless people the power to locate food, shelter, and bed availability at those shelters. It’s a way for them to find help for themselves–empowering, to say the least–but it requires access to a smartphone, a dim prospect.
If 88% of American adults have cell phones, why are they still viewed as a luxury item? Why does technology seem superfluous for a homeless man or woman? The enormous benefits of being connected don’t just at access to food, shelter, or a job (in fact, according to this article, 40% of homeless adults are employed).
There’s another important function for the connective power of tech: getting heard.
Tweets came pouring in from people who wanted to help her. She received two free laptops from people she met through Twitter. People offered to pay her cell phone bill and others sent her bus passes. A documentary filmmaker also reached out to her via Twitter and asked her to be part of his project documenting homelessness. Through that filmmaker, she was invited to speak at Twitter’s 140 Characters Conference, being held in Los Angeles in 2009.
True, not every homeless person who tells his or her story online can expect an instant outpouring of support. But every blog and every post can help to abolish homeless stereotypes. Mark Horvath, the creator of the Invisible People website, was once homeless himself. He saw the negative effects of homeless stereotyping, and began interviewing the homeless, one by one–and posts them online. His goal is to educate and give the homeless an identity that goes beyond “that guy with the cardboard sign that’s at the street corner.” How often might we refuse to help the homeless because we harbor that secret (or not-so-secret) belief that they’re “lazy,” “insane,” or just want money for drugs and booze?
What would happen if we logged on to Invisible People and discovered that “50% of the homeless population are women and children,” and that “39% are below the age of 18?”
If that didn’t change our perspective, perhaps these facts would. According to a report by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, these four groups are most likely to find themselves homeless:
-people living in “doubled up” situations
-people discharged from prison
-young adults leaving foster care
-people without health insurance
In combination with facts like these, how much more of an impact could a homeless individual have by using Facebook, Twitter, Vlogs, and Blogs to gain support? Organizations like this one in St. Paul, Minnesota, have already begun distributing cell phones to the homeless.
The rest of us should probably get used to the fact that connectivity is becoming a necessity–for everyone.
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