Interacting with the homeless…on Twitter?

For many of us, social media has become an everyday part of our lives. Thanks to Facebook, Twitter and a multitude of blogging websites, we are able to instantly share what we are doing with friends and family. And now with the technology of smartphones, we don’t have to wait until we are at a computer to send out a tweet or a status update. With one click of an app, we can make sure everyone knows we are waiting in line at the grocery store – whether they’re interested or not.

For most homeless individuals, however, updating a social media site isn’t a priority, even if they do have access to the Internet. Therefore, there’s been a dearth of posts by them that let us know about their struggles…until now.

Three interns at the Bartle Bogle Hegarty advertising agency in New York were given a two-part challenge. The first half was to “Do something good.” Okay, that would seem doable to most. The second half was a bit more daunting, “Do something good…famously.”

The interns accepted the challenge and developed Unheard in New York which, according to their website, “is an initiative to help homeless residents in New York City speak for themselves.” With $1000 in funding furnished by the advertising agency, the interns have provided four homeless men a prepaid cell phone, each with a month of unlimited texting and a Twitter account. By doing this, they hope others will interact with the men and get to know them as individuals.

You can follow the four men on Twitter @jessie550 @putodanny @awitness2011 @albert814 or @underheardinNY for a stream of all four.

We at the Coalition find this initiative to raise awareness fascinating. By allowing these men the opportunity to share their struggles and triumphs with the world through every tweet, their followers (as of today, they have over 16,000 followers combined) are able to get a raw inside look into homelessness.

Many of you may be wondering, “Do clients at the Coalition have cell phones?” Yes, the majority of our clients do have cell phones, but mainly use their phones for employment or family-related business. While there are some clients who are able to pay for the device themselves, a number do qualify to receive a cell phone from SafeLink Wireless or Assurance Wireless – which are both a part of the Lifeline government phone program. In order to qualify, an individual must be enrolled in a public assistance program (Medicaid, Food Stamps, etc.) or meet an income-based criteria.

So – the next time you are on Twitter sending out tweets, we encourage you to become a follower of one or all four of these men who, according to the Unheard in New York website, are “Fighting homelessness 140 characters at a time.”