"If it wasn't for Twitter, I'd be homeless," Mark Horvath confidently declares. "It's not Twitter, it's the people using Twitter. It's technology, but there's still the human connection."
When Horvath found himself unemployed and facing homelessness in 2008, he decided to embark on a two-year road trip, collecting stories of struggle from homeless people across the country.
"One day, I stopped looking at what I don't have and started looking at what I do have." What he did still have was his car, his iPhone and his laptop -- tools he used to start his new venture.
With his background in marketing and film production, Horvath creates videos showcasing the unique stories of homeless Americans. He founded InvisiblePeople.tv and began using social media to share these stories with the world.
Horvath forms relationships with many of the homeless people he meets and interviews. When a homeless man Horvath knew traveled up to Seattle to begin a new job, he was mugged. Unprepared to face a frosty winter night, the man reached out to Horvath, desperate for help.
Horvath turned to his Twitter account, sending out a call for assistance. Before he knew it, a Good Samaritan reached the homeless man, bringing him $100 so he could pay for a jacket and a hotel room for the night.
That moment provided Horvath with a revelation -- Twitter could be used to help people. Over the last two years, Horvath has connected with dozens of homeless individuals and families, many of which have in turn lent a hand to help each other.
"Literally, there are people that were homeless and are sleeping inside tonight because of InvisiblePeople.tv...Real impact is a person getting housing."
Now, Horvath has launched WeAreVisible.com, a new website aimed at empowering homeless individuals by teaching them online tools to share their stories and connect with others. The website provides videos explaining how to set up e-mail accounts, join Twitter and Facebook and start a personal blog.
"Homeless people are starting to get online, but we need to build that community. This is a first step."
According to Horvath, many homeless individuals use computers in public libraries to find information -- but the resources they're looking for aren't always there. Because most organizations that serve the homeless have websites targeted at soliciting donations from the public, Horvath feels there isn't sufficient information online for the people seeking help.
"Homeless services are broken. The best way to change them is to let the people we serve have a voice."
Horvath feels that social media and other online tools can bring the homeless much-needed "visibility."
"We don't need to hear from another homeless expert or government official...Homeless people are helping homeless people via Twitter, Facebook. That's the change we need to hear. We don't need to hear any more statistics. We need to hear about that homeless mom sleeping in her car with her four kids."
Individuals can also download flyers about the website to share with homeless people. For example, librarians can hang the posters up in their libraries to share the message with homeless library visitors.
Horvath explains the website in an animated video.
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