The Movement to End Homelessness Starts By Listening
Mark Horvath is an activist fighting to help homeless people tell their stories, posting videos with the men and women he meets to tens of thousands of followers on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. It’s a kind of grassroots activism, changing attitudes online to drive action on the ground. His work is based on the idea that change starts with an act as simple as listening to people tell their stories.
Following Horvath’s lead, I’m a documentary filmmaker fighting to make the crisis of homelessness visible with the @home_campaign. The campaign tells the story of homelessness in America across any and every medium—including film, social media, and a smartphone app “game for change” that actually raises funds to help house homeless individuals.
Horvath showed me where homelessness is hiding—and took me places I never thought a person could call home. We met Barry and Rick, two men living in the storm drains underneath Las Vegas. We met children living in tent cities, seniors living on the streets of Los Angeles, families staying in by-the-week motels, and veterans who’d been homeless for nearly a decade.
The people we met could be my brother, my sister, or my son. I wondered if I would cope as well—be as strong, handle the rejections as well as they did. They expressed deep feelings of vulnerability, and yet their honesty and determination to share their stories displayed such overpowering courage.
We interviewed Jean, a mother of five beautiful children, as she sat in her in her tiny hotel room. She was trying to do the best she could for her children, wanting simple but invaluable things: a home, a job, some security, and a place for her kids to be kids. We met brilliant, successful young people who built a sense of community in a tent city: Caleb, who had to walk away from his career because of depression, and Mike, who managed to attend college full time while living in a tent.
By sharing their stories online, Horvath is bridging the divide between our digital selves and our communities in a way few can. He has been homeless himself, suffering from addiction, and then losing his home to foreclosure—until he found his voice, and his confidence, on the web. In one day, I watched him listen intently to Dale, a homeless veteran near San Francisco’s port authority, and then walk into the Twitter headquarters to talk about the power of social media to do good. He’s throwing everything he’s got into telling the stories of people experiencing homelessness, and he's fighting to make homelessness history.
He’s not just posting and tweeting—Horvath asks how he can help, and there are homeless people we met who are now housed because of his work. When you see their transformations, from homeless to having a home, you can see how just having a place to live can change a person so profoundly. That kind of progress is possible on a large scale, and it’s why people are devoting their lives to solving homelessness, from street physicians to service providers to advocates, sticking with it day after day.
I recently spoke to a group of college students, and realized that this new generation is growing up with homelessness as a fact of life— a part of the landscape, instead of a problem with a solution. Changing our perceptions, about what it means to be homeless and what we can do about it as a society, is crucial to making change happen. And the right story does have the power to build momentum towards action.
Right now, we’re in the middle of a big crowdfunding push to bring the @home_campaign to life. This is first and foremost an advocacy and organizing project, but every component (from film screenings to developing the app) will also include a component benefitting homeless individuals (i.e. recruiting volunteers, signing petitions, or donating to help house individuals). We’re relying on people like you to support this innovative project and help put this issue back on the front burner.
We deserve to live in a country where everyone has a home. And I hope that @home_campaign helps build the will to do it.
This project will be featured in GOOD's Saturday series Push for Good—our guide to crowdfunding creative progress.