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!?