Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Facebooking without a Home

I recently discovered something interesting and rather perplexing. I can’t quite wrap my mind around it. I’m over-flowing with questions, so here it is. I know someone who is recently homeless…and still on Facebook. They are actively updating their status (about being homeless) on Facebook!

I have so many questions. There are the obvious ones such as how does this individual update their status? Are they using a cell phone? Wait; do they even have a cell phone? Maybe they’re using a computer at a public library. More importantly though, why are they still on Facebook. Perhaps Facebook is their major mode of communication with their friends and family. It might be a luxury or comfort while they are going through a difficult time. Maybe it’s just a habit that is hard to break.

With several questions swirling around in my head, I can’t help but also think about the more important things that this sheds light on. Unfortunately, homelessness is on the rise, and it affects people just like you and me. Homelessness doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t care if you were once affluent, if you owned a gorgeous home, if you have a graduate degree, if you loved your job or volunteered in your community. Homelessness doesn’t even respect your successful social networks. Sigh.

But seriously, many of our communities’ homeless are ordinary people, going through a rough time. And some of them are willing to share their experiences using social media.


  1. Wow, I find this fascinating. I knew homelessness was on the rise. My own parents almost became homeless (we wouldn't have let that happen) this past winter. I have lots of thoughts as to WHY someone who is homeless would continue to use facebook (loneliness, networking in hopes of finding a job/home, keeping in touch with any family/friends, etc.)
    However, what I'd like to spend my time commenting on is a different type of communicating that I personally saw in use. This reminds me of a program that started in 2008 in Virginia (as well as other states I am sure.) This program was for anyone receiving social security disability, food stamps, or other state benefits. Basically, people could apply to get a free cell phone. It was your typical pre-paid phone. The state would continue to add a small number of minutes each month which you could accumulate over time. The thought behind this was that it would help a group of people who often become homeless (or move from place to place or live in a group home or live in a shelter or just cannot afford a phone) a stable phone line to put on resumes/applications. This way employers could reach them directly and easily (rather than going through a social worker, case manager, shelter director, etc.) giving the person a much better chance of getting the job. And ideally, be able to help themselves so that they would no longer need state or federal benefits.
    While working in the local government mental health system, I saw dozens of these phones given out. I never once saw it radically change a person's life or even find someone a stable job. Not that I am totally pessimistic. I am sure it does help some people even if it does not fix all their problems (red pill, anyone?) I wonder if in five years instead of cell phones, the state will pay for netbooks with internet access so that all can have stable access to their email or even facebook accounts.

  2. Thank you for always leaving such thoughtful comments. It is interesting to consider if one day there will be programs providing some sort of email/internet service for people without a home. My parents have actually had guys apply for jobs and listed the city park or some other public location as their address. Having a reliable phone connection or email address would certainly help people, especially in certain industries, get a job. I wonder what our constantly technologically society will come up with next!