If you were looking to find a homeless person, Facebook would be a good place to start, according to Mark Horvath.
“One hundred percent of the sheltered homeless that I’ve run into are using Facebook,” he said.
Horvath used to be a TV executive (If you watched “Wheel of Fortune” between 1990 and 1994, he helped make sure it got to your TV set), but he wound up homeless on Hollywood Boulevard, battling a drug addiction and living in a park.
After rebuilding his life, his latest mission is to help homeless people find their voice and communicate their needs through the power of free social media tools. He discussed his projects with Hari Sreenivasan:
Part roving reporter, part advocate, Horvath has criss-crossed North America in recent years to tell the stories of “invisible people,” as he calls them.
“We’ve done a really bad job of educating the general public on homelessness,” he said.
But his videos on InvisiblePeople.tv come through with a brutally raw quality as homeless people open up about issues and experiences like deciding whether to remain homeless or split up the family in different shelters and having one’s girlfriend presumably be killed by a garbage truck as she slept in a Dumpster.
His dispatches also touch on scores of other issues related to homelessness — everything from getting robbed to navigating bureaucracies to whether a nurse should ever help an addict shoot up.
Horvath has made some powerful allies in his mission to raise the visibility of homeless people as a whole and as individuals. YouTube highlighted his interviews on its homepage for a day and other companies have pitched in with donations and goods to keep him on the road, sharing stories.
So what’s next for Horvath? A documentary about his mission is in the works. He’s also exploring the idea of “virtual case management,” which could allow a homeless person to remain in constant contact with social service providers using something like an iPod touch rather than have them panhandle for bus fare and carry their belongings to sit in an office for a conversation that could take place digitally.
“I have two cell phones, a laptop and a car, and I can’t navigate the continuum of care,” Horvath said. “How can a homeless person?”