THE BLOG

Power of Social Media Helping Homeless Services After Hurricane Sandy

11/02/2012 08:04 am ET | Updated Dec 02, 2015

Like so many others the night Hurricane Sandy hit, I was glued to Twitter. I was worried about friends and family all up and down the East Coast, and I was especially concerned about our homeless friends. In the past, I have seen firsthand how homeless people are treated during bad weather, so I was very focused on my Twitter stream looking for news on shelters being evacuated and outreach efforts. Knowing my friends at New York City Rescue Mission are located lower Manhattan, I started to get concerned and sent out this tweet:

FireShot Screen Capture #186 - 'Invisible People (invisiblepeople) on Twitter' - twitter_com_invisiblepeople

Some time passed and I saw this:

FireShot Screen Capture #176 - 'NYC Rescue Mission (NYCRescue) on Twitter' - twitter_com_NYCRescue

I immediately started to blast their need over all my social media channels.

FireShot Screen Capture #184 - 'Mark Horvath (hardlynormal) on Twitter' - twitter_com_hardlynormal_with_replies

Brad Reed, an old friend and Pastor of the New York Dream Center, was already out in the streets delivering water and food to people. He saw my tweet and responded:

FireShot Screen Capture #185 - '(1) bradreed (bradreed) on Twitter' - twitter_com_bradreed

Since I had a few connections at the NYC Mission, I was already trying to make contact. With no phones and no power that was impossible. I responded to Brad:

FireShot Screen Capture #183 - 'Mark Horvath (hardlynormal) on Twitter' - twitter_com_hardlynormal_with_replies

I originally thought my friend Joe was behind The NYC Mission's Twitter account, which he normally is. What I learned was their Twitter stream was now being run by Angela Baldwin, who works in marketing and runs another feed for a Mission here in Los Angeles.

FireShot Screen Capture #174 - 'Angela Baldwin (AngBaldwin) on Twitter' - twitter_com_AngBaldwin

Angela was asked to take over the feed since power was out in NYC. I also happened to know Angela. She came to hear me speak at a recent social media event and I've worked with her getting stories from the local Mission. The TEAM was starting to form.

I have huge respect for Shaun King, CEO of Hope Mob, a true hero and probably the very best community builder and mobilizer I've ever seen. Once Shaun is "on it" consider it done! Shaun started to rally his Hope Mob into action:

FireShot Screen Capture #155 - '(2) Shaun King (ShaunKing) on Twitter' - twitter_com_ShaunKing

We learned that if the Mission did not get a generator they would have to evacuate. The sewage system in the building requires an electric pump. We were told that they could maybe make it to the next day and that this was a very serious need. Approximately 110 homeless men live in the building trying to rebuild their lives. For me, and everyone working to make this happen, putting these men back out into the streets was not an option. We turned up the heat!

FireShot Screen Capture #153 - '(2) Shaun King (ShaunKing) on Twitter' - twitter_com_ShaunKing

FireShot Screen Capture #157 - '(4) Shaun King (ShaunKing) on Twitter' - twitter_com_ShaunKing

This is one of my favorite tweets of the night:

FireShot Screen Capture #151 - 'Shaun King (ShaunKing) on Twitter' - twitter_com_ShaunKing

Buying a winning lottery ticket is probably easier than finding a generator after a hurricane hits. It was getting late. We decided to try again in the morning fully believing we would find a generator. What we didn't plan on is by morning we needed 2 generators for 2 shelters, which quickly grew to 3 generators for 3 shelters.

FireShot Screen Capture #187 - '(3) The Bowery Mission (BoweryMission) on Twitter' - twitter_com_BoweryMission

Brad was already out looking:

FireShot Screen Capture #158 - '(4) Shaun King (ShaunKing) on Twitter' - twitter_com_ShaunKing

Alan Thornton, CEO of the Rescue Mission of Syracuse, saw what was going on and offered to help.

FireShot Screen Capture #170 - 'Alan Thornton (alanrmsyr) on Twitter' - twitter_com_alanrmsyr

The catch was, and this is a big one, Alan was all the way up in Syracuse. If he loaded a truck with generators and food, would they even be able to make it into Manhattan?

FireShot Screen Capture #159 - '(4) Shaun King (ShaunKing) on Twitter' - twitter_com_ShaunKing

Brad's crew on the ground arranged to meet with Alan's team someplace outside of the city and transport the now 3 generators and food into Manhattan. It took a little while to load it all up but the truck left Syracuse.

FireShot Screen Capture #162 - '(4) Shaun King (ShaunKing) on Twitter' - twitter_com_ShaunKing

FireShot Screen Capture #179 - 'Mark Horvath (hardlynormal) on Twitter' - twitter_com_hardlynormal

Barbara Poppe, Executive Director of The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, sent out a tweet letting people know Community Access has an urgent need:

FireShot Screen Capture #188 - 'Barbara J Poppe (bjpoppe) on Twitter' - twitter_com_bjpoppe

I started to blast it out:

HN tweet barb

And so did lots of other people:

FireShot Screen Capture #189 - 'Mark Horvath (hardlynormal) on Twitter' - twitter_com_hardlynormal

FireShot Screen Capture #160 - '(4) Shaun King (ShaunKing) on Twitter' - twitter_com_ShaunKing

Kevin Ryan, CEO of Covenant House, was also tweeting during and after the storm. Their Atlantic City shelter destroyed, yet they were able to get the 50 homeless youth out before it was submerged. They've had to move kids around a few times but Kevin and his team are doing an amazing job!

FireShot Screen Capture #197 - 'Mark Horvath (hardlynormal) on Twitter' - twitter_com_hardlynormal

 

Brad and his team continued to help people with water and food throughout the day. Shaun kept mobilizing the Hope Mob:

FireShot Screen Capture #152 - 'Shaun King (ShaunKing) on Twitter' - twitter_com_ShaunKing

Although Brad uses Twitter, he has never been very active on it. He was also crazy busy helping people. It was now early evening and we hadn't heard from him in a bit until this:

FireShot Screen Capture #175 - 'bradreed (bradreed) on Twitter' - twitter_com_bradreed

Soon after Brad tweeted this:

FireShot Screen Capture #164 - 'bradreed (bradreed) on Twitter' - twitter_com_bradreed

I cannot speak for everyone who was watching this all go down on Twitter last few days but when I saw the above tweet from Brad, I screamed like my favorite football team made a touchdown!

FireShot Screen Capture #165 - 'bradreed (bradreed) on Twitter' - twitter_com_bradreed

NYC gen

 

Three shelters now had the generators they needed, yet the fun didn't stop there. Angela got wind of a shelter in Newark, New Jersey, that was in crisis. Because there was no way to communicate with the Mission, Angela quickly setup a Twitter account:

FireShot Screen Capture #177 - 'Mark Horvath (hardlynormal) on Twitter' - twitter_com_hardlynormal

FireShot Screen Capture #167 - 'Goodwill Rescue (GoodwillRescue) on Twitter' - twitter_com_GoodwillRescue

FireShot Screen Capture #169 - '(1) Goodwill Rescue (GoodwillRescue) on Twitter' - twitter_com_GoodwillRescue

Once Cory Booker, the Mayor of Newark, New Jersey tweet it out help soon arrived:

FireShot Screen Capture #166 - 'NYC Rescue Mission (NYCRescue) on Twitter' - twitter_com_NYCRescue

 

There really is a lot more to this story than the screen shots above. Brad and his team have been going nonstop, and Shaun is mobilizing people to take care of needs both big and small. There were lots of people involved both behind the scenes on the ground and on social media. I know lots of people in homeless services still don't see the worth in social media, so I hope the above story at least gets them interested. Honestly, without social media, I don't think NYC Rescue Mission would have received a generator in time to avoid a serious crisis.

Please know I only played a very small part in all this. I am simply the guy who happened to look at Twitter at just the right time and I just happen to have built a network of homeless service providers. The real heroes are Brad Reed and Alan Thornton, two men that gave their all to help others. Shaun King and Angela Baldwin also gave their all to make things happen for others. In contrast, my role was very small... or was it? See, that's the great thing about the serendipity of Twitter. Each and every action taken by a connected network influences the outcome. Each person, each tweet and each retweet, each post on Google+ or Facebook is important! There is real power in a connected network!