How a One-Person Nonprofit Brings the Face and Voice of Homelessness to Mainstream

IP is a one-person nonprofit organization with mission to bring the voice and face of homelessness, founded in 2008 by Mark Horvath, who is a former homeless himself.

So how can a one-person nonprofit outfit fight homelessness and make a dent?

In this post, you’ll discover the three ways this nonprofit work the social media to communicate its message.

#1. Leverage the use of social media tools

Use social media because it’s free,” says Mark Horvath in one of the Invisible video clips. Since the launched of his organization, Mark Horvath and his Invisible People have leveraged the use of social media tools to bring stories of homelessness to the mainstream. The communication method works two-ways: with mainstream and with(in) the homeless community itself.

As a communication tool, social media is used to reach out multiple layers of stakeholders, including those who are homeless because they are also online. He says that if you are looking for a homeless person, Facebook is a good place to start.

A large portion of IP’s stories are video interviews with homeless individuals which then posted on its YouTube video-blog (vlog). In addition to YouTube, where videos originated (the hub), links from video clips are shared through their Facebook, Twitter, blog, and Google+ channels (spokes). If on YouTube channel you get to hear interviews, on its Flickr and Instagram accounts you get to see pictures of those interviewed.

So technically one (same) content can be seen multiple times via a variety of social networking sites because each site has different audience, followers, culture, and demographics.

#2. Tell compelling stories

The story that Invisible People tell to the world is about homeless. That’s what you will see on every channel they have.

What makes their stories different than what you see through the lens of mainstream media is that their stories are raw and unfiltered. It’s hardcore. These kind of conversations have that go-straight-to-your-heart feeling.

Every video produced tells a story of the person interviewed. These are stories of people who have been forced to live on the street for a variety of reasons, bankruptcy, jobs losses, etc.

For example, the video below is about Natasha, a 22-yr old, who has been homeless in London for four years. There’s no help for her because she’s not using drugs or alcohol or pregnant. This video has been viewed 214,623 times (as of 4/15/14).

IP Natasha

View video here

As a result of being the spokesperson for the homeless, the vlog channel (on YouTube) had 13,000 subscribers with more than four hundred videos on its archive in 2011 when I first conducted the research. Now they have more than 40,000 videos on their channel! The channel has over 17,000 subscribers and its videos have been viewed by more than four million times.

#3. Build a community

Communications work multiple ways. So if Invisible People brings stories to the mainstream, “We Are Visible,” its sister site serves the homeless community it is designed to empower homeless individuals to share their stories and connect with each other.

What’s neat about it is, its Facebook page is managed by @CareyFuller, a homeless mother living in the Pacific Northwest.

Go where people are (on social networks)

Invisible People vs. We Are Visible social media channels*

Invisible People social channels Audience: mainstream We Are Visible social channels Audience: homeless individuals
YouTube 17k subscribers4.1M views
Facebook 17k fans Facebook 4k fans
Twitter 28.6k Twitter 3.6k followers
Blog RSS
Flickr Pool of pictures
Google+ +13,275 followers
Instagram 848 followers

#4. Use social media because.. it could changed someone’s life

Twitter made it happen. Someone who’s on the verge of homeless, found help via Twitter.

A twitter handle @lostawareness started following @hardlynormal (Mark Horvath’s twitter handle). Then she sent her first tweet to @hardlynormal that gets his attention.

lost awareness twitter

And then twitter works its magic.

Sometimes cameras capture miracles. This short video has the 1st time I met+LostAwareness Rd, then Rd and me speaking at 140 Conference (she was still homeless at the time) then, and all thanks to social media, Rd signing the lease and moving in to her new apartment. Video also included our friend Neil from +National Coalition for the Homeless

The story is told in this video @Home: Social Media Fights Homelessness below, where RD aka @lostawareness on Twitter, told the audience on how Twitter has changed her life. She says, ‘without Twitter I would not be standing here today, I would be sleeping on the street.’(min 1:36). View video here

His toolkit may only be video and social media tools (available for free). But these tools help him to create powerful stories and bring the conversations to be had with everyone about homelessness. Think about the impact…

* as of 4/15/14

Connect with Invisible People 

On the web


t: @invisiblepeople



Note: This story was originally written for Econsultancy in 2012 (part of a study of how social media will change the nonprofits landscape). Content has been updated since then to reflect the changes.


Author: Dewita

Co-founder Ecotwist Labs.

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