Long time readers of this blog might remember when I wrote about Mark Horvath of Invisible People, the homeless man who leveraged YouTube into a way not only out of his plight but also a way to help others amongst the growing ranks of America’s homeless.
Giselle Smith of MSN Money brings us news of another homeless person, a woman this time, who is finding online celebrity in a similar fashion:
Losing her job, getting divorced and a number of health issues caused AnnMarie Walsh to become homeless five years ago, but she found her voice — and a community — on social media.
The 41-year-old suburban Chicago woman slept in an alley when she couldn’t get into a shelter and wrote about her experiences as “PadsChicago” on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and a WordPress blog, mostly using free Internet service through the Arlington Heights Memorial Library or a prepaid hand-me-down cellphone.
Her goal was not to complain about her plight, but to help people understand homelessness better.
Walsh’s activity on social media eventually helped her find a social worker that could assist with transitional housing. It also got her noticed by Horvath who helped to amplify her signal. First he introduced her to a team of documentarians working on a film called “Twittamentary.” He also helped bring her to the attention of the 140 Character Conference (named for the limited length of Twitter messages).
She appeared on stage with Horvath at the conference without telling anyone she was homeless. When she did the reactions were potent:
‘It was very powerful,’ Horvath told the Daily Herald. ‘Most people would not roll down their windows on the exit ramp to ask homeless people their stories. This changed people’s paradigm.’
Since then her story has been run on NBC Chicago and on The Huffington Post, among other media.
This demonstrates two important things that are often lost on most people:
- The perceived stereotype of the homeless is often inaccurate, especially during times of economic duress such as we have experienced for the past three years.
- The power of social media to shine a spotlight on issues such as homelessness. As access becomes more readily available even the homeless have an avenue through which to share their stories.