"I am poor but not crazy," Manu, a 33-year-old man in France, recently tweeted.
Manu is homeless and has lived on the streets of Paris for two and a half years. Thanks to "Tweets 2 Rue," a recent project launched by several social welfare associations, Manu and four other homeless men in France are able to tweet their thoughts and experiences on the street, according to local media reports.
France has seen a rise in homelessness in recent years. According to the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies, the number of homeless in the country has increased by 50 percent since 2001, rising to 141,500 in 2011.
So in October, Génération Réactive, a government-sponsored project that seeks to help youths, gave five homeless men smartphones and connected them with a journalist at radio station France Inter in order to help them develop their voice. The social media initiative, which will run until March, aims to spread awareness about homelessness in France and dispel prejudices about people who live on the streets.
Take Manu, for example: After his wife and children were killed when Laurent Gbagbo, former president of the Ivory Coast, was overthrown in 2011, he emigrated to France and found himself without a place to stay.
As Le Huffington Post notes, the project was not immediately well received, with several Twitter users calling the campaign "uncomfortable" and "inappropriate." Others took issue with the fact that the homeless men were given smartphones when they lack basic necessities like housing.
Yet, responses on social media have been increasingly positive as the five men have established a following. Some Twitter users applauded the idea to give a few consenting homeless men the means to widely communicate their experiences and what happens in their everyday lives, while others, who live in France, offered aide.
In one case, 47-year-old Patrick, who has spent three years on the street in Metz, tweeted about his vision problems and a local optician reached out and suggested he stop by her shop to pick up some glasses, according to Le Figaro.
Manu has also received help from community members. Two days after he tweeted "It's raining it's cold I don't have a home," Manu shared a photo of his new home and thanked his benefactors for a good night's sleep.
http://t.co/X8FmcwO2WJ j'ai bien dormir cette nuit merci à tout mes bienfaiteur#tweets2rue
— Manu (@115toimeme) October 31, 2013
Yet, Patrick has his reservations about whether the campaign will make any real difference.
"Who can tell me what will happen in 5 months and a half. For us, the '5 who tweet' we'll have to give our phones back," he wrote on Oct. 25. "The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. And we homeless thought our situation would get better."
Learn more about Patrick and the other men tweeting from the streets:
For most of his life, Patrick (@kanter57640) was a truck driver. But when his life spiraled out of control three years ago, he was forced onto the streets in Metz. He admits he is lonely and doesn't trust anyone. He lost ties with his teenage daughters. Though he wants to reconnect, he must find a job -- and an apartment -- first.
So for the time being, the 47-year-old uses Twitter to shed light on homelessness in France and share photos of his daily life."My morning coffee... when it's not raining," he wrote on Oct. 27.
Mon café du matin.......quand il pleut pas. http://t.co/QLLc9coBip
— Patrick M. (@kanter57640) October 27, 2013
Nicolas (@nickopompons) has spent more than a decade sleeping in tents or under the stars in central France. After he left home at 18, he struggled to start his own business and turned to a life on the streets. Now, at 36, Nicolas does as others did for him and takes young people under his wing, teaching them how to get by.
Nicolas, who spends his time in the French city of Bourges, often tweets about the weather, what he sees and interactions he has with passersby. He also likes to tweet about his dog named "Wolf.""Someone told my dog 'poor dog' I replied 'no he is a poor's dog, it's not the same thing,'" Nicolas wrote on Oct. 26.
http://t.co/vBNEaMmEBj voila wolf(wolfgang amadeus clochard)
— nickopompons (@nickopompons) October 28, 2013
At 23, Sébastien (@DjamaikaPtiseb) found himself on the streets with nothing but a backpack. Now, 10 years later, he looks back at how he lost his friends and family to drugs and alcohol. The 33-year-old wants to find a job, but first he needs to get the right paperwork -- starting with an id card.
Since the start of the project, Sébastien has shared poignant thoughts and photos of his surroundings."The flame flickers tonight to warm my heart wet with by the rain today," he wrote on Oct. 15.
Cette flamme ce soir scintille pour réchauffer mon coeur mouillé par la pluie d'aujourd'ui http://t.co/MdMgV61555
— Moustik (@DjamaikaPtiseb) October 15, 2013
As the youngest of the five, 24-year-old Ryan (@Usher226) has only lived on the streets of Metz for five months. After escaping a wrongful prison sentence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ryan managed to travel to France.
For him, sleeping on the streets is a source of constant anxiety since he's unsure if he'll have a place to stay the next day. While he's not as prolific as some of his peers, he shares updates about his plans.
"Next week I resume my life on the street. I am looking for a comfortable place to spend the night," he wrote on Twitter Thursday.
But Ryan confesses that all he really wants is to be reunited with his children one day.
"Keep hope that everything in your life can change," his Twitter profile reads.