Should the homeless use social media and blogs?

Posted: June 13, 2010 in Acceptance, Compassion, Discrimination, Homelessness, Misconceptions, Poverty, Stereotypes

Yesterday morning, I received an e-mail from friend and fellow blogger Mark Horvath of InvisiblePeople.tv.

In short, he wrote:

"If you have a second can you write a few sentences as to why we (homeless people) should be on social media and/or blogging?"

I found the request intriguing for a number of reasons. And, as often is the case with me, it started an entire chain-reaction of thoughts racing through my mind.  

People are, for the most part, social creatures. Feeling isolated or cut off from the rest of the world around is not something we are fond of. In fact, we require interaction with others of our species for the overall health of our psyche. This is why, in the penal system, being placed in "solitary confinement" is considered one of the harshest forms of punishment.

Social media such as Twitter, Facebook and so forth – as well as blogs – have become an overall part of human culture. Folks use these mediums to express their thoughts, opinions and ideas. They are just another method that we human beings use to communicate with others.

At present, there are who-knows-how-many blogs being authored by folks, from all around the world, who are either currently homeless or who, at one time in their lives, have experienced homelessness.

Personally, I think that’s a good thing. Furthermore, that’s how it should be. They are, after all, not any less a person because of their experiences with homelessness. Nor should we view them (or their opinions and thoughts) as any less valid than our own because of it.

Yet, there are those who do indeed think of the homeless as beneath notice. And because they see the condition rather than the person, they often times equate homelessness as a type of social inadequacy or a moral short-coming. Some even believe that because a person is homeless that they are somehow less intelligent than themselves.

I imagine there are those who might disagree with me, but I can think of numerous reasons why folks who are homeless (as well as those who are formerly homeless) should be using today’s social media as a method of discussing homelessness.

First, it shows that the homeless do have a genuine desire to be a part of their overall community.

Second, it gives us a glimpse into homelessness from the perspective of someone who personally knows the struggles faced by those who are without housing rather than the canned rhetoric so often posited by the "experts."

Third, it challenges the rest of us to face our own perceptions and misconceptions of the homeless – and, of course, our prejudices and egos.

Mostly though, I believe using social media as a tool for "exposing" homelessness serves to provide a voice for those who have, for so long, been hidden, silenced and marginalized by the rest of society.

As part of my reply to Mark, I wrote:

"If anything, the disdain and discourtesy that so many within the homeless population receive from housed members of society, makes me question our morality as a nation.

To view folks as less than ourselves based on their ‘residential status’ demeans the principles on which this nation was founded – namely that:

‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.’

I particularly note that nowhere in that sentence does it differentiate between those who have housing and those who do not."

Call me what you will but, when a person finds themselves becoming homeless, it’s because they’ve lost their home. It’s that simple. They haven’t lost their citizenship, their morality, their need for companionship. Nor have they lost their right to be treated with dignity and respect – something that’s inherent simply by virtue of being a person.

So, why should folks who are homeless "… be on social media and/or blogging?"

Quite simply: because they can be.

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Comments
  1. Your answer to: Why should folks who are homeless be on social media and/or blogging? – “because they can be” – probably requires an explanation of how they can be.

    ‘Homeless’ comes in the minds of the housed to be equivalent to ‘without any property or assets, or access to any services’. Ergo, the housed can’t put together the two notions of people without housing and Internet access. It’s therefore necessary to answer that first, unasked question: How can you blog, tweet, etc. if you haven’t access to the Internet or a computer? They assume neither of these are possible.

    Regarding your key point: “folks who are homeless (as well as those who are formerly homeless) should be using today’s social media as a method of discussing homelessness.”

    I agree that it would be great if more people experiencing deep poverty were blogging, tweeting, etc. But I suggest we not just write about life at the bottom of the poverty well. One of my favourite bloggers is a journalist. She writes about writing. (One of my favourite posts.) Carmen Sisson is homeless.

    It’s as important to demonstrate that that those without housing are people first. That we’ve vastly different interests, skills, talents, political persuasions and so on, and that homelessness or poverty doesn’t define us. When we write about topics other than or in addition to our financial circumstances, and we manage to do that well, we ‘drive home’ the point of the incongruity to the hearts and minds of the oblivious.

    • michael says:

      Crystal,

      Your last paragraph re-enforces my last statement: “Because they can.”

      By using social media, those experiencing homelessness are able to “…demonstrate that that those without housing are people first” by their exchange of ideas – regardless of what topics they choose to discuss, be it homelessness or otherwise.

      Regarding your point that it might have been good to give an “… explanation of how” the homeless can go about using social media: my post wasn’t meant to be a tutorial (I’ll leave that to others, such as yourself), but rather to answer the question of “why” I believe they should.

      – m –

  2. Rev. Cynthia says:

    BRAVO, Michael, I couldn’t agree more! Here in the west, it would seem that “money talks” & as a result, I think that those of us, who are living in poverty (whether housed or unhoused), often feel powerless. Having access to social media is one way in which everyone, regardless of socio-economic status, can have a voice.

  3. Phil Donnelly-Rooney says:

    Thank you for well thought out response. I think homeless people’s experience should be recorded and if they can get onto twitter or whatever, then great. Its very difficult for us housed folk to have any idea of life on the streets.

    • michael says:

      “Its very difficult for us housed folk to have any idea of life on the streets.”

      Phil,

      I wholeheartedly agree with that statement. This is why I believe that those homeless who can, should be using social media as a way of providing housed members of their community with a bit of insight as to what “goes on behind the scenes” for someone experiencing homelessness. Doing so – in my personal opinion – creates the potential to re-humanize those who (as I wrote) “… for so long, been hidden, silenced and marginalized by the rest of society.”

      – m –

  4. Louis says:

    Thanks for reminding everyone that we’re sitll citizens and have rights even tho’ we’re homeless.

  5. I think that homeless people have a very powerful tool at that their disposal in social media and would welcome greater use of it. As a researcher I’m currently hearing and learning a lot about the life stories of homeless people and the diversity and complexity of their experiences. Many of them are wonderful at articulating their life experiences and providing insight which as a member of the ‘housed’ community, I cannot help but be intrigued by. Social media offers an opportunity for those stories to be shared with the wider world.

    My only doubt is that, among the people I have met, there is a common belief that they are not able to sit down and write. Blogging etc, after all is a skill that requires some skill and patience. Many of the people I have met, by their own admission, were not interested in reading and writing at school and describe themselves as more ‘hands on’ practical workers. Also, the incidence of dyslexia (again, among the people I have met) seems to be high.

    If homeless people are switched on to the idea that what they have to say is as valuable and unique as I believe it is, and are able and willing to persist with what social media has to offer then I am sure that a louder and increasingly persuasive voice will emerge.

    • michael says:

      “If homeless people are switched on to the idea that what they have to say is as valuable…”

      SG,

      Thank you so much for your comment – particularly the opening portion of your last sentence. It accurately describes one the largest obstacles to remedying homelessness in so many communities. Local governments; homeless support services agencies/organizations; and other assorted homeless “experts” seldom truly listen – or give credibility – to what the homeless have to say about the condition or the potential solutions. If they did, perhaps larger numbers of homeless would receive the types of assistance they need to become re-housed.

      – m –

  6. Michael, again speaking from my experience of doing ‘life story’ research with homeless people I have discovered that there is probably not as much information shared between those people and the “experts” as there could be. I have learned a lot from the people I have interviewed because I am very clear about what my agenda is from the outset and they know there is no ‘comeback’ to what they share with me. My role is simply to learn about them, not to judge them. I have no professional interest in what happens once I have completed my research – its not my role or my business to make it so.

    The “experts” or “helping professions” that you speak of have an agenda of their own and judge themselves, and are judged by others, for how well they perform their professional duties. This puts them in a position whereby they must intervene in their ‘clients’ life and by doing this they must make some kind of moral judgement about what they are doing, or not doing, or what they should be doing. They must “help” them, or at least be seen to be doing so.

    My point is this: I feel like I have experienced a unique position of privilege and trust in the work I have been able to do and by how much people have shared with me. The interviewees commonly report feeling good about having done the interview – it only takes an hour but they often find it a very positive experience, and a simple one – I just listen and take an interest in what they are saying.

    But it does make me wonder, what is there to stop the “experts” in investing a similar amount of time just simply getting to know their clients, whilst also leaving their personal and professional interests, biases and prejudices behind them? I wonder if this would create more trusting and open relationships that would enable homeless people to feel better understood and more in control of their options?

    • michael says:

      SG,

      Your last paragraph raises a two valid questions regarding the “experts” (and, spawns a number of others). I have often thought along the same lines.

      This particular post was inspired by a request asked of me by a friend and fellow blogger. Even as I began writing it, there were numerous other thoughts that were going through my mind. I will be addressing those thoughts in the next post or two. Stay tuned.

      – m –

  7. Darkforbid says:

    Well I use them… but why and is it a useful thing to do with my time, who can tell.

    But nice post anyway.

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