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:

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