The Homeless Homeless Advocate: Using Social Media to Advocate for Change

Eric Sheptock

Taken by Michael S. Williamson, Washington Post

Today in the Washington Post there is a story about a homeless man named Eric Sheptock who advocates for the homeless. What makes him unique is that:

  1. He uses Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and email (accessed through public computers at the library) to advocate for the homeless and
  2. He does not want to accept a job so that he can keep his credibility as a homeless homeless advocate

Sheptock, 41, wouldn’t take a 9-to-5 job that compromised his advocacy efforts or the long hours he spends tending to his digital empire, he says. He wouldn’t move out of the downtown D.C. shelter where he has slept for the past two years if it would make him a less effective voice for change.

“Too many homeless people have come to look up to me, and I can’t just walk away from them,” he says in a recent blog post titled “Tough Choices.” “My conscience won’t allow it.”

Specifically, along with advocating for more affordable housing Sheptock advocates for the improvement of the District government’s (the city of Washington DC) performance on homelessness so that the shelters can be “effective”. The article doesn’t go into detail about how Sheptock defines how the DC government can be more effective with the homeless, but it would seem as if he wants DC’s shelters to be more accommodating to a larger amount of homeless individuals:

In a city where 6,500 people have no place to live, affordable housing is scarce and shelters are full, Sheptock “aims to pressure them into actually being effective,” his Facebook page says.

Short Documentary

Short Documentary on Eric Sheptock

The Good

Sheptock is using social media as a soapbox to advocate for better accommodations for the homeless throughout the city. With the use of the Internet, he has been successful in reaching out to government officials that can make a difference in the lives of DC’s homeless population. For example:

This year, Sheptock contacted Laura Zeilinger, who oversees the city’s homeless services, because of a water leak in the women’s shelter at CCNV [Community for Creative Non-Violence].

“It’s taken the city longer to fix this water leak than it took them to stop the oil leak in the Gulf Coast,” he told her.

She quoted him, and within weeks the leak was fixed.

Unfortunately, the Post doesn’t state how he contacted her, so we can only assume this was done through email or through some other form of electronic communication. However the point is that, as an Internet-savvy homeless advocate, Sheptock is making a difference (even if it is minuscule) because of his continued use of the Internet and social media.

The Questionable

Alright everyone, time to put our thinking caps on. See these lines? Good. It’s time to read between them.

Despite the interesting fact that a homeless man is using Internet-based technology to advocate for the better living conditions of others like him, there are many points that shouldn’t sit well with you because despite his empowerment through technology, he is greatly limiting himself and the ability of others like him to lift themselves out of poverty into the economic mainstream:

  • Eric Sheptock is using the Internet for positive change, yet this call for change is only calling for better/larger housing for the great number of homeless people throughout the city. Sheptock should be calling to help the homeless out of their unfortunate situation through job training, job creation, and drug rehabilitation. He’s also advocating for more affordable housing, but you can’ t pay for rent unless you can get and hold a steady job, which is something that job training, job creation, and drug rehabilitation can solve.
  • Eric Sheptock’s belief that getting a job will somehow dismantle his credibility only works to glorify homelessness, which is not the message needed to uplift this struggling group of people.
  • Although we’ve now found out that through the Internet even someone without a home can be empowered and make a difference, Eric Sheptock’s refusal to get a job will ultimately keep him in a minimal position of government influence, which could be enhanced if he woke up and realized that working for local non-profits such as the National Coalition for the Homeless would improve his living situation, give him a steady income, grant him access to more contacts that can improve the lives of the homeless, allow him to be on the Internet and spread his message more often than any public library lab will ever allow, and ultimately lift him to a better position of advocacy where his skills and credibility could be enhanced and used in ways that will reach more people in less time than he ever could reach spending hours walking and busing back and forth between public libraries and shelters.

Does this sound too harsh? I don’t think so, but it’s my blog and I can say whatever I want, which is way too boring. That’s why I would rather hear from you. What do you think? Am I bursting this story’s uplifting balloon? Or is there some sense to be had out of my uber-long analysis?

By the way, if you want more Eric Sheptock, you can look him up using the following links:

Facebook
Twitter
Blogger

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WikiLeaks: National Security Threat or a Revolution in Information Dissemination?

 

I’m torn when it comes to the WikiLeaks debacle. I’m all for the freedom of information; for example, I’m a firm believer in softening copyright and trademark restrictions throughout the world and I take a very serious interest in the teachings of Lawrence Lessig who believes in the same thing (to speak very generally). However, I think that these leaks (especially from my own biased American perspective) go too far in exposing top secret information to the public sphere.

One positive way to think about WikiLeaks is that, as an academic and as a researcher, this massive amount of information provides us with more knowledge than we were once privy to, which is always a plus in academia. It also spits in the face of traditional matters of diplomacy and begs the question as to whether or not people like Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, are releasing information like this in order to defy and revolutionize the way information gets released from the government to the people. This may very well change the way citizens of the world who live in the Information Age go about policing our governments.

However, to play Devil’s advocate, although there is now a wealth of information on international diplomatic relations due to WikiLeaks, this debacle could put a freeze on such information leakage in the future because foreign governments will be more hard-nosed when it comes to keeping their information secure. This is not to say that leaks will not happen in the future. What will most likely happen is that it will be years or even decades before a gold mine of information such as this reappears. WikiLeaks will change the way foreign diplomats will disclose information to US diplomats by stymieing the flow of information. It will also change the way US citizens will view their government and government officials. US citizens already have a healthy (and rightfully so) skeptical view of their government, but leaks like this hurt the trust we as Americans have in our government even further. The same goes for foreign citizens who view the United States government in the same way.

So is WikiLeaks a good thing because the site is acting as a revolutionary watchdog of world powers by exposing their foreign relations practices to the rest of the world? Or is this a threat to national security on a world-wide scale? Personally from an American perspective, I think that our media does enough to watch over our government (as it has done for decades). Our government shouldn’t be micromanaged any more than I need to be micromanaged at work. And oh and how I fucking despise being micromanaged!

Like I said before, I’m all about the freedom of information, but top secret government information is top secret for a reason. I can only speak for my own country, so with the United States in mind it would behoove American citizens to trust in their traditional media watchdogs rather than trust the nebulous mission of WikiLeaks whose disclosure of top secret government information does more to hurt international relations than it does to revolutionize media dissemination.

So what say you, oh all-knowing interweb peoples? Yay or Nay on WikiLeaks?