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Homeless advocate brings his message to the masses through social media

At one point living on the streets himself, Mark Horvath is spreading the word about the faces of homelessness online by letting them do the talking.

July 19, 2009|Jessica Garrison

At the same time, she said, when she gave him a temporary job working with the homeless in winter shelters, she was somewhat alarmed to discover the number of updates he was posting on Twitter and told him he needed to do them on his own time -- without mentioning her agency or its clients.

"What Mark is proposing is a very different kind of model that forces agencies to relinquish some control," she said.

Horvath responds unapologetically: "What are you going to do when they [the homeless] are all on Twitter?"

What makes homeless activists nervous thrills social media types.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, July 21, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 36 words Type of Material: Correction
Homeless advocate: In some editions of Sunday's California section, an article about Mark Horvath's cross-country trip to document homelessness said the L.A. Mission gave money to Horvath's effort. It was the Union Rescue Mission that contributed.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, July 26, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 39 words Type of Material: Correction
Homeless advocate: In some editions of the July 19 California section, an article about Mark Horvath's cross-country trip to document homelessness said that the L.A. Mission gave money to Horvath's effort. It was the Union Rescue Mission that contributed.

"He is using social media to try to make real change," said Meeker, of Whrrl. "In the tech community in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, there are some key players who understand what Mark is doing, and they are very interested."

After following Horvath's tent-city encounter with the angry man, which he chronicled on Whrrl, Meeker flew him to Seattle to talk to the company's employees.

Soon he was receiving other invitations -- including one to the Idea Camp, a conference in Washington, D.C., this summer. It was that invitation that gave him the idea for his road trip.

With the relentless enthusiasm his network has come to know well, he sought sponsors -- and while some said no, many said yes. Individuals who read his blog gave him money. So did the Union Rescue Mission.

The day before he set out, Horvath hit Hollywood Boulevard.

With his black backpack stuffed with socks and a fuzzy microphone tucked under his arm, he swept past tourists and the crowd at Michael Jackson's star.

He was headed for a woman in a wheelchair, with spaces where her front teeth should be and a catheter snaking out from a hole in her blue sweat pants.

He addressed her by name, Viper, and asked: "Where did you sleep last night?"

"Down on Highland," she answered, adding that her seizures were troubling her and that it was hard to stay cool, especially with new medications making her sick.

Then Horvath posed one of his trademark questions.

"If you had three wishes," he asked, "what would they be?"

At first, she answered promptly: "Housing."

Then what had been a steady smile crumpled and tears began to fall.

"Seeing my daughter," she added. "Being around family."

That night, Horvath posted Viper's interview on his website, with this note: "Six months ago, I cautioned that her story is tough to watch. Today, I must again. . . ."

--

jessica.garrison@latimes.com

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