Social media powers efforts to help the homeless – and they're working

This information provided by Smart Cities Council Compassionate Cities.
Thu, 2016-07-14 10:58 -- Compassionate C...

Social media has become an ally for homeless advocates and everyday citizens looking for ways to help people living on the streets. These aren't solutions to the enormous challenge homelessness presents, but they are compassionate efforts to reduce suffering one person at a time. – Philip Bane

Kevin Adler walked down San Francisco's Market Street at Christmas time, asking every homeless person he met if they'd like to record a holiday message to a loved one.  Jeffrey took him up on it and recorded a video to a sister he hadn't seen in over 20 years.

Adler looked up the small town in Pennsylvania Jeffrey was from and found it had a group on Facebook. He posted Jeffrey's video. Within an hour, he tells Hoodline, Jeffrey's sister was tagging the post. And within a week Jeffrey's hometown raised $5,000 to bring him home and rehabilitate him.

"So," Adler says in the Hoodline interview, "a human being in San Francisco, the tech capital and most connected city on earth, who was perhaps sitting in front of the Old Navy flagship store on Market Street for God knows how many years, is a missing person, and every day his sister was thinking about him and wondering where he was ... It seemed like that was a problem that needed to be solved. The more I looked at it, the more I talked to other homeless folks on the street that had friends and families that they wanted to connect with."

And so Adler, an experienced social entrepreneur, started Miracle Messages and with a team of volunteers has been shooting video, posting it and reuniting homeless people with loved ones.

It's someone's somebody
Folks on the street, Adler points out, are someone’s sister, brother, mother, father, son or daughter. "It’s someone’s 'somebody,' he says. "Imagine how different our world would look, or even our own community, if every time you walk by a person who is on the streets you see them as someone's 'somebody.'"

In a similar mission to personalize homelessness, Seattle architect Rex Hohlbein started Facing Homelessness and the Homeless in Seattle Facebook page with, as he puts it "the simple thought of telling something beautiful about each person living on the street." He shares humanizing portraits and the personal stories of homeless people he meets and suggests ways people can help them directly.

And Hohlbein's approach is spreading across the country, from Los Angeles to Denver and most recently a Facing Homelessness Bradenton in Florida. Homeless advocate Laura Licoski is behind the Bradenton Facebook page. She tells the Bradenton Herald that people want to help the homeless, but don't know how. "People can visit this page and see what we are trying to do and either get involved with me or get ideas for themselves."

There is no shortage of ideas on how to help the homeless on Pinterest boards, ranging from making up care packages and keeping them in your car to loading snacks, sanitary and hygiene products into a spare handbag and giving it to the next homeless woman you see.

Still another example of social media in action is a post on the Invisible People site about response to a Twitter plea to help get a generator and food to a homeless shelter after a devastating hurricane. Or this one urging people to help take care of the city's homeless during heat waves.




Making a difference
It is easy to lose sight of how much one person's compassionate act can make a difference in a homeless person's life. Working at a store in Illinois, Juan Samhan became friends with Tony, a homeless man. On cold nights he'd give him a ride to a shelter. One day Tony told him that before he dies he wanted to find his four kids with whom he'd lost touch after separating from their mother 20 years ago.

Samhan posted Tony's photo and the request on Facebook for him. According to Chicago 5 News, two days later he received a message from Tony's 27-year-old daughter in Texas who recognized her father's photo. She said they'd been looking for him for years and thought he was dead. His voice on the phone told her otherwise.

Related articles…
Shoes? Sleeping bag? New Seattle app enables personal donations to homeless
Australian demonstrates the power of the web to help those in need


This article is from the Council's Compassionate Cities initiative which highlights how city leaders and other stakeholders can leverage smart technologies to end suffering in their communities and give all citizens a route out of poverty. Click the Compassionate Cities box on our registration page to receive our weekly newsletter.

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