How social media empowers the homeless

Gary aka John Doe
Spare Change News

Coming to a realization, such as the fact that you’re going to be homeless in a couple of weeks, one tends to start to scratch and claw in misguided desperation, for anything that will soften the blow.

For me, there was a therapeutic connection to writing, so I started a blog and began documenting what I was feeling and experiencing. Once it was up and in place, I figured I’d want to share it with the world.

Now when I was growing up, communication with the outside world, from home, was limited to handwritten letters, dialing a rotary phone, or a garbled conversation with your friend across the alley with two cans and a string.

However, these days we literally have access to the entire world at our fingertips. That is a lot of power that far too many take for granted. So once I wanted to share my experience, I immediately signed up as @bostonhomeless on Twitter, and oddly enough, within days, my life changed.

I began meeting people in similar situations, as well as people who were there to help people going through tough periods of their lives. Some help professionally, some just there to show you that they care and understand, as well as support you.

Suddenly the lonely dark world that I had created for myself over the past decade had become more open to outsiders. Little did I know that these connections would have profound impacts on my life.

Two days into homelessness my glasses had broken, and I was not only newly homeless and trying to navigate my way through the system, in a relatively new city, but I couldn’t see two feet in front of my face. Then suddenly an amazing women, Fran Held of the Mitzvah Circle Foundation in Philly, who had been following my story on my blog, reached out to me to help.

Within Days she had arranged for me to pick up glasses here in Boston, and once again my life changed a bit more. Now I had not only felt a deeper connection to world outside of my “wall,” but I became fascinated by this idea of helping others.

Quickly I started making contacts with more people who used social media to reach out and make major impacts on other people’s lives, and their own.

One person in particular, stood out in this new form of national outreach; Mark Horvath of http://invisiblepeople.tv/blog/

Mark, for an eight-year period of his life, was also homeless, yet not only had risen above the situation, but was utilizing the web and the streets in perfect unison, to make profound changes in peoples lives.

Just days before I was out in the street I remember reading of Mark’s first night homeless. Him telling a story of being cold, scared, and finding a bench where he could feel safe enough to get even a small amount of rest.

I could feel my heart pounding, and my nerves heightened as the realization came to me that in roughly 48 hours, that was going to be me. However as I continued I learned about a guy who overcame some of life’s toughest obstacles, and turned his experience into something bigger than himself, and now changes peoples lives.

I soon became friends with Mark, and as I sit in the soup kitchen writing this, am preparing for his arrival to Boston in a couple of days. Together we will be attending the Social Media Summit here in town, three days of workshops and speakers, geared to utilizing the most influential marketing tools of our generation. To think that only months ago I read his story, frightened of what was to become of me; I now have the greatest resources, contacts, and opportunities that someone in my position could have thanks to social media. It’s how this very newspaper first stumbled on me and asked me to write for them.

As well as how I’m not just homeless, but I can reach out to others to assist me in bringing help directly to the streets for those in need, through one on one outreach, up to planning public events to benefit homeless, Human Service Agents, as well a social media experts, by getting together to help inform each other.

People like Mark Horvath, Fran of Mitzvah Circle, or Shay and Shane of Project 50/50, are amazing examples of the power that social networking can provide, and it’s through them, and others like them, that have helped empower me to not only take my life back, but to dedicate it to helping others do the same.

All I can suggest to people, is when you feel absolutely alone and lost, feeling nobody else could understand your situation … All you have to do is log into Twitter, Facebook, or others and find a million others feeling the same. We are no longer alone, the entire world is within reach.

GARY AKA JOHN DOE writes for Spare Change News and blogs at http://homelesslife.com/

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