Written by Sydney Wilburn
To tackle the problem of homelessness in their streets, residents in communities across the globe are taking to social media.
In The city of Seattle, Washington, an organization called Facing Homelessness calls to action kind-hearted Facebookers to help some of Seattle’s homeless population, crowdsourcing through posts on their Facebook page to provide money for anything from new shoes to car inspections. Rex Hohlbein takes stunning black and white portraits of the individuals experiencing homelessness who com in for advice, clothing, or just someone to talk to; these portraits go up on Facing Homelessness’ Facebook page, often with a link to a PayPal account to donate to that person’s cause. In one instance, a homeless man’s plea to raise $300 to pay the impound fee for his dog was raised eight minutes after the post went up on Facebook. Hohlbein’s goal is to present a different side of those individuals experiencing homelessness.
Social media surely has the power to draw together individuals passionate about improving their community, but some have different beliefs than others on how those improvements should be made.
A Seattle Times article reports about a Facebook page based in Manhattan, New York, that allows members to “share pictures and complaints about people living on the streets.” This page is similar to an app that allows users to drop pins on a map of New York City when they encounter a homeless individual they believe needs to be reported. According to the article, “organizers say they are only illustrating a pressing social problem to urge the city to solve it.” A Twitter page called Third & 33rd tweets out reports of inappropriate or offensive behavior by homeless individuals in the city, often with the address of the incident.
I support citizen activism and admire the passion many of these people have for finding a solution to a problem they see in the community. Additionally, I think social media is an ideal space to share solutions and build a community of people with similar passions and mindsets. However, shaming those you’re intending to “help” is not the way to do this. If social media users want to share information about where homeless are located around their city to show the staggering numbers and elicit positive change, social media is a good place to start. They should not, however, be used to publicize offensive activities of these individuals to incite anger throughout their community and lash out at the homeless community.