Getting online: Website Aims To Make Homeless Visible

Mark Horvath is a nationally renowned housing advocate who has been highlighting the stories of homeless people across the United States using short interviews which he records and posts online at invisiblepeople.tv.

Horvath’s concern in initiating his interview project was a conviction that homeless people had been “invisible” for much too long. His goal was to personalize and humanize homeless individuals and families in the hope that more attention would be paid by society to their hardships and needs.

His project has served to mobilize concerned individuals and groups beyond those employed by agencies and non-profit organizations that have traditionally served homeless people. It is credited with accelerating the growth of a “Housing First” initiative across the country.

Horvath’s next goal is to help people who are homeless or facing the prospect of homelessness to have a voice online. As a result, earlier this year, he applied for and won a $50,000 competitive grant from the Pepsi Refresh project to build and publicize an interactive, online community he proposed which is called “We Are Visible.”

Horvath’s new website www.wearevisible.com was launched just a month ago in Detroit, Michigan. It is an online location where people dealing with homelessness can learn skills to inquire about help available, contact service providers, interact with each other, seek assistance and find supportive company using email and the growing power of social media interactivity.

This site contains easy-to-follow tutorials where people new to using online media can learn how to open a Gmail email account and how to post to the two most popular online interactive communities, twitter and Facebook. If you like to write about your experiences in detail, you can learn how to set up and post to an online blog at www.wearevisible.com.

Accounts on all of these services are free. If you do not have a computer, access to the computers available for use at public libraries is also free.

While Horvath’s initial vision for the We Are Visible website was to make it easier for homeless people to research help available online, to contact service providers by email, to receive replies and to complete applications for services online, he also anticipated that individuals using these services would be likely to post feedback about their experiences with service providers in the manner that people already post ratings online about their satisfaction or dissatisfaction with products and restaurants.

However, Horvath did not anticipate the degree to which homeless people would use these social media tools to interact with each other online and to reach out to help or simply encourage others like themselves in need or in distress. To his surprise, they started doing this almost immediately.

There is a great deal of this kind of activity on twitter, site address www.twitter.com/wearevisible. Homeless people and families interact with each other there nearly continuously. This weekend, as an example, a family of three which has been living for nearly a year in a trailer with no bathroom or running water, finally obtained housing. As I write this, a mother and son whom the family met online are helping Kerry, Sabrina and their thirteen year old son Kiefer move into their new home.

Many people in the twitter community have been actively following this homeless family’s story online for quite a while now, offering help, advice, encouragement and suggestions. A week ago, Sabrina was savagely bitten by a dog at their camp site as she reached out to protect her son from the animal’s advances and, after posting information about the event on twitter, she was able to access medical treatment and obtain the medication she needed.

When you are online, you can visit invisiblepeople.tv and watch Mark Horvath’s recently posted interview with this courageous family, telling their own story about how the family ended up homeless after Kerry, the husband, father and a veteran, lost his job two and a half years ago.

Be sure to also check out http://www.Facebook.com/wearevisible where information has already been posted on topics like the voting status and rights of homeless individuals. There is a link to an article about free strategies for fighting depression and an ongoing discussion about coping skills on the site’s discussion forum.

If you need more assistance in acquiring online computer skills, librarians generally help people to find what they need online, just as they have long helped people to find materials in the library. In addition, communities often offer free or inexpensive computer skills courses that you can take.

I look forward to meeting you in the We Are Visible online community!

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