(This piece is based partly on the press release DWPR0031 issued by Doorway Wiltshire Ltd, August 2010)
So, why did Doorway start a blog site? And why are Doorway and myself so active on Twitter? And what is the relevance of social media to those working with the homeless and marginalised, and more specifically, to the homeless and marginalised themselves?
Doorway’s involvement with social media began with Twitter. This, to many, has a reputation for being full of self-obsessed people who wish to share the trivia of their lives and their thoughts on everything. Or indeed, recently, for a prominent cricketer to swear about being dropped from the England squad. However, it had become apparent that it offered great opportunities for networking with other agencies, sharing information, and improving the ability of Doorway to signpost for guests. One concrete example was linking up with Jon Regler of @StreetsRev in Oxford for advice regarding our new football project.
This soon led to linking with a number of individuals working with the homeless, or who indeed are homeless themselves, and their blog sites, crossing national boundaries. Notable amongst these were; Mark Horvath (@hardlynormal), travelling around the USA, talking to the homeless, visiting projects, filming, taking pictures; and Homeless Girl (@HomelessGirl1), homeless in the UK, blogging and provoking debate.
This had moved us into the territory of the homeless and marginalised telling their stories themselves.
We feel strongly that too often society sees the homeless and marginalised as an amorphous, almost sub-human mass. It makes it easier to walk past them, ignore them, pretend they don’t exist, or, if their existence is acknowledged, to accept that terrible things happen to them. But each one of them is an individual human being, with a story to tell. As Paul Brodeur said: ‘Statistics are human beings with the tears wiped off’. Telling their stories may help them come to terms with their experiences. Hearing them may give identification, hope, empathy, practical help, to others.
Homeless Girl said in her blog:
“Homeless people don’t exist, they are “invisible”, they have no face and no identity. No story to tell and are all the same. I began to write because I had nobody to talk to. I have gotten more hope, support and encouragement than any therapist could give.
I am not invisible, I have a voice, I have a purpose and I have an identity and I am more than just somebody who lost their house.”
So we sought to create a blog site that guests could access at the library, or at the drop-in sessions, so they can tell their stories, and share their thoughts in their own way, in their own words. Already we have seen the opening chapters of an account of the horrors of alcoholism, raw in its honesty, but written with remarkable humour. Now we are seeing guests’ creative writing, lyrics, drawings appearing. It is hoped to include audio and video clips in the future, for example of the ‘Doorway Band’ rehearsing and jamming.
As I have noted on this site previously, some people seem to feel that the homeless have no right to have anything, or express themselves, other than in the most basic ways. And access to Information Technology seems to upset them particularly. At this point, I shall again redirect the reader to this post by Homeless Girl, and the comments made on it. Also, when people have moved on from homelessness into some form of housing, they may need a great deal of support and positive social interaction, and social media can provide a great deal on that front.
We have seen blog sites cross-pollinating, and we have seen homeless people given concrete help to move forward from their homeless state. Most of all we have seen the emotional power of individual voices and stories, and the social power of these voices linking up in ways driven by them, not by those in authority. As Mark Horvath has said: ‘besides the homeless message, there is an even more powerful one in what I do; social media has given us (anyone) the power to change the world’.