Forty-five bucks, a backpack and a Twitter account.
That’s all it took for Mark Horvath — more widely known in the Twitter-verse as @hardlynormal — to find his calling as an advocate for the homeless. His story reinforces my belief in that old cliche: one person truly can make a difference, especially when the medium is the Internet and the messenger is a former television marketing guru.
I heard Horvath speak Tuesday night at a Social Media Club of Seattle event in South Lake Union. He doesn’t sugar-coat his own struggles. Horvath says his passion comes from experience. He has found himself living among the homeless. Though he could get a desk job these days, the Los Angeles native prefers traveling the country and using his social media prowess to raise awareness about the key ingredients to ending homelessness: housing, jobs and health services.
The way Horvath tells it, he was once a skeptic of Twitter. But he began to see it as a tool for gathering donations and giving the homeless a megaphone to share their stories. His tweets have proven so effective that Ford Motor Company has sponsored his cross-country drives to collect stories from homeless people. Hanes has donated 2 million pairs of socks (which is how he often breaks the ice with the subjects of his interviews). He created InvisiblePeople.tv, as a place to post videos of the people he encounters. Seeing and hearing them speak is powerful and adds some nuance to a common notion of homelessness as an issue that only afflicts veterans, alcoholics and drug addicts.
Since arriving in the Emerald City a few days ago, he’s already put a human face on Seattle’s homeless epidemic. In the videos below, meet Laura, a mother of two living out of a tent, and Sabrina, a Spokane native who now lives under a bridge.
So what happens now? Horvath is a one-man machine, but he emphasizes everyone has the ability to listen to the homeless.
“We’re either maintaining homelessness, or ending homelessness,” he says. Clearly he’d prefer the latter, which means giving short-term things like food may not always be the best solution.
Horvath encourages us to help homeless people access resources. (Here’s a link to King County’s list of phone numbers and organizations.) He insists they are not “service-resistant,” but they are accustomed to roadblocks and need “tangible social interaction.”