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Technology Innovation

The – Harnessing Digital Storytelling to Break Down Homelessness Stereotypes

The – Harnessing Digital Storytelling to Break Down Homelessness Stereotypes
One of the first projects I plan to launch under the banner of our ‘.Social’ campaign is an online newspaper written and owned by the homeless, ‘The’.

The name twist and idea comes from my own personal experiences of being homeless, actually in Toronto at the time.

I realized one of the most simple but powerful ways in which that community could be helped is to empower them to self-publish their own life stories, and the name that came with it was ‘The Torontoe’, to capture living at the “toe end of society”.

Edinbro hopefully also captures the essence of street brotherhood, and makes it easy for Americans by spelling it how they pronounce it ..

Digital Storytelling

As highlighted in the .Social intro one of our goals is to harness the latest tech innovations for social needs like these, but actually a key challenge is that people often look ‘too far ahead’ (Blockchain, AI et al), with regards to how technology might help impact social needs like these, when actually the simplest of tools that are readily accessible today would do more to help.

In this case I’m referring to the worlds most popular open source CMS WordPress, what runs all my sites and will be used for this too.

What connected the dots for me was the coverage the NY Times was receiving at that time, for their innovative use of “long form” storytelling formats, such as Snow Fall, what beget Medium et al. This format is something WordPress can handle effortlessly, and could be made accessible to the homeless for the same purpose.

Invisible People

In particular the story Invisible Child demonstrated to me just how powerful it can be when applied to a goal critical for tackling issues like homelessness, in my view, which is addressing the social stigma that comes with it.

It’s trendy to talk about tackling “the Digital Divide”, but the reality is the much bigger problem is The Social Divide, accurately conveyed through the idea they are ‘socially invisible’.

One eye opening realization for me was to see most of the folks at the homeless shelter equipped with smartphones, they’re so cheap/ubiquitous now. However people still walked past them in the street two feet away, purposely ignoring them at best or as happens everywhere else too, treating them very aggressively. So it doesn’t magic up better connectedness, humans have to connect with humans for that, and storytelling is the age old way of achieving that.

As you might imagine homelessness in Canada is a brutal experience; nearly 100 died in Toronto in 2017 alone, and all of this stems from the real root issue: negative social stereotypes – All homeless are there because they must be lazy, alcoholic druggies etc. As such people ignore them, governments ignore them, they are bottom of the Smart City Priority List.

So no, “Digital Participation” isn’t the root solution, social participation is, ie. how can we break down these terrible stereotypes such that people are exposed to the reality: That the homeless community is made up of every possible human story across the spectrum of life you might imagine, not some one dimensional caricature hate spreaders like the Daily Mail encourage.

Empowering them to self-publish these stories hopefully will go a way to helping achieve this, and I think with that truth and better awareness will come more help and more action, on a scale large enough to tackle it once and for all. It’s morally reprehensible we live in a wealthy first world country with some living among us in third world conditions.

Action Plan – An ‘Online Big Issue’

Another huge inspiration has been The Big Issue, the magazine sold by the homeless as a means of self-generating their own income, indeed hopefully we will be able to work with them and others.

This will add the same entrepreneurial dimension, for example authors will be able to earn some revenues from advertising associated with their stories, as one of many ideas we can build in.

It can also be combined with a goal of engaging more volunteers to become actively involved in a way that boosts the efforts.

For example in Canada a teen photographer set out to capture the photos and life stories of the homeless around cities in North America, such as the man from Winnipeg who lost his three year old daughter and whose wife committed suicide, published into a book Nowhere to Call Home with a goal of encouraging others to see the homeless as people not stereotypes.

To launch this project the next steps are mainly:

  1. Apply for funding from relevant social organizations focused on this need.
  2. Build a volunteer team, the main work load is to provide blogging training / facilities for the homeless, so ideal for WordPress experts / journalists but so simple a task any one could help really.

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Neil is a Cloud computing entrepreneur, specializing in cutting edge digital transformation and disruptive innovation, building teams and startups and helping clients of any size successfully exploit a variety of technologies.

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