Hearing the Homeless, on Twitter

Whenever I visit the city, I am always struck by the number of displaced and destitute people are on the streets. While I won’t attempt to preach my opinion, since I in no way mean for this post to be a political piece, I think we can all agree that there is a homelessness problem that must be dealt with.

Research has been conducted to determine more exact numbers of the poverty-striken, and the statistics are staggering:

“Each year, more than 3 million people experience homelessness, including 1.3 million children.”

“Each night, over 38,000 homeless individuals sleep in the New York City shelter system. This includes more than 16,000 children and 8,000 single adults. Thousands more sleep on city streets and in other public places.”

“Only eight percent of the general population can claim veteran status, but nearly one-fifth of the homeless population are veterans.”

While these facts and figures are heartbreaking, for many they remain disconnected and thus less emotionally charged. For this reason, an organization called Underheard in New York has reached out to give the homeless their own voice. The program, with the help of the local shelter, chose 4 homeless New Yorkers and provided them with free cells phones, a month of unlimited text messaging, and a twitter account. Armed with social media, Underheard in New York hopes that these delegates, representing a previously under-represented community, will bring life on the streets to life. Says the website:

“Underheard in New York is an initiative to help homeless residents in New York City speak for themselves. We’ve provided [the representatives] each with their own mobile phone, a month of unlimited text messaging and a Twitter account. They’ve found their voices by texting their thoughts, feelings and actions to Twitter. We aim to use their social media presence to create real interaction both online and off. In other words, get to know them as individuals.”


On February 1st, Danny, Derrick, Albert, and Carlos began their month of social networking. Prepared with short lessons on how to use the new phones and twitter accounts, the men were quick to get their voices heard. The messages are riddled with misspellings and key slips, adding authenticity and sincerity. The men tweet their feelings, opinion, thoughts, and activities to all their followers, while the people at Under Heard in New York monitor their use and progress.

I found the program endearing, with its candor and frankness. I will admit that my immediate question was, “why not just give them the money/money’s worth of food that would be spent on the phones?” After seeing the messages these men have posted, I understand the importance of the bigger picture– bringing an awareness to an ever-increasing section of our population that remains voiceless and, thus, helpless.

So whatever your opinion on the economy, the homelessness situation, welfare, or politics in general are, please get behind this program. Make it worthwhile, and consider donating to your local shelter or food bank. And while you’re at it, why not follow the twitterers on their journey!?

{via http://mashable.com/2011/02/16/homeless-tweets-underheard/}

Social media gives animals a voice

I’m the person that has to change the channel when the ASPCA commercials come on. You know the ones–  heartbreaking photos of downcast animals pass across the screen as you find yourself being serenaded by a sad Faith Hill song. The few times I’m managed to get through these ads, I’ve found myself with wet cheeks and a sniffly nose. The humane treatment of animals, as well as shelter-adoption are two issues I feel particularly strong about. Both of my own dogs came from the local shelter, and for the past few years I’ve been volunteering at an animal shelter near my school.

I came across an article today regarding the impact social media is having on pet adoption. In particular, two Nevada animal shelters have taken to the web in an effort to give their animals a voice (of sorts).

At the Nevada Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Doug Duke has instituted an interesting use of online communities. Despite a small staff, limited budget, and overflow of animals, Duke has taken to posting about the  adoptees on the organizations blog, tweeting about/from the animals, and even posting biographies to Facebook. Duke notes that every animals at the shelter has a history, and it’s important for potential pet owners to learn this back story:

“The posts require disclosing the animals’ flaws, such as not being good with children or other pets, but that information helps potential adopters find an animal with the right personality so it can join what Duke calls a ‘forever home.'”

Perhaps Duke’s most unique use of social media is features heartbreaking and adorable messages from the ‘pets’ themselves.

A cat named Princess Ashlyn took to Facebook to post some of her latest pictures alongside the caption: “I will be sure to let you know how much I love you every day.”

2-year-old Chihuahua, Donna asked: “What is it like to sleep in a bed and have toys to play with?”

And 4-year-old Chachito, also a Chihuahua, got more personal when he mentioned how his previous abandoned him in a crate on the side of the road: “I trusted and loved them, but they threw me away.”

Duke’s creative use of first-person(/animal?) messaging stems from his firm belief that “The last thing anyone wants from an animal charity is to hear a person.” Adopting a pet is a very personal experience. Everything is dependent upon the relationship you forge with your potential new pet. This Nevada shelter is eliminating the middle man, or just the man/woman in general. Duke’s plans seem to be working, with a 5% increase in pet adoption seen over the past year, as well as a dramatic increase in twitter followers and Facebook friends.

Another Nevada shelter has also engaged in social media for their adoption campaign. The Animal Foundation at Lied Animal Shelter has focused on educating people as well as contributing to adoption rates. Once a week, their Facebook page features “Furry Friday”– posting the pet of the week. The organization reports that on average, by the end of the day, that animal has found a home.

The Animal Foundation has also taken to creating profiles for their pets, including Maximus the cat, who needed money for surgery. Through Facebook, the Foundation was able to raise the funds necessary.

The support of the online community for animal shelter adoption is overwhelming. It raises awareness on a whole new platform. Says Duke of the use of social media and its benefits:

“Before, people could donate, volunteer, adopt, foster; now, they can help spread the word…It initially didn’t occur to us that all these people could become warriors for the animals.”

As a sign off for this post, I just want to remind everyone to please think adoption first when looking for a new pet. You could be saving the life of your new best friend.