May 30, 2014; National Desert News
Nonprofits are increasingly using social networking as a tool to reach out and communicate with homeless people they serve. Social networking platforms like Twitter give people a chance to network with nonprofits and shelters and even gain connections and support from other homeless online users. In 2011, the University of Southern California School of Social Work released a study that showed that homeless people increasingly own cell phones and are prioritizing data plans for communication, specifically among younger demographics where, for instance, 62 percent of homeless teens have a cell phone.
The Desert News recently interviewed R.D. Plasschaert, a woman who singlehandedly credits Twitter for pulling her out of homelessness. Twitter gave Plasschaert the ability to connect with Invisible People, a nonprofit serving the homeless. Other nonprofits are also finding Twitter to be one of the best ways to connect with homeless people online; Project Homeless Connect has also found using Twitter to connect with local homeless people in San Francisco has made a difference.
Invisible People has amplified social networking as a tool not just for marketing but reaching out to the local homeless populations that may have no other stable forms of communication to rely on. Mark Horvath founded the nonprofit group and has “leveraged the power of video and the massive reach of social media to share the compelling, gritty, and unfiltered stories of homeless people.” Horvath struggled with homelessness himself and hopes to change the negative public perceptions of the homeless through social networking nationally:
Mark Horvath has coined the concept called “virtual case management” after his own experience with homelessness. While traditional case management refers to routine visits and check-ins, virtual case management is expanding that connection to the ability to reach the homeless in crisis at any time. “In five-ten years, virtual case management will be a common term,” Horvath said. “But right now, people think I’m crazy.”—Aine Creedon