Innovation Project

Social Reporting – Challenging the Stereotypes of Homelessness and Poverty

Challenging the stereotypes of homelessness is a key goal for Social Tech innovations.

For a while in 2014 I found myself homeless on the streets of Toronto.

Here’s what I learned that inspired and informed my passion and ambitions for ‘Social Tech’ innovations.

  • Stories and stereotypes – The greatest challenge we face in addressing poverty-related social issues is the dark stereotypes harboured about poor people and grotesquely amplified by the tabloid media.
  • Community knowledge – Angels operate among us, providing charitable services to help the homeless, and knowledge of who/what/where/when is shared by word of mouth.

These insights can help begin to identify where technology innovations could be applied.

Challenging Stereotypes

Just a few years before my own experience of homelessness I was a dotcom millionaire, living in a house with an indoor swimming pool and driving a BMW 7 Series, thinking I was the cock of the walk. Fast forward through a series of terrible decisions and disasters and I was a resident of the Salvation Army homeless shelter in Toronto.

So, a poster boy for how a riches to rags tale can happen to any one and testimony to no matter how smart and well off you think you are, every one is just a few mistakes away from ending up on the streets.

This provided a starting point for my learning.

There are often dark stereotypes peddled about the homeless, that they are all where they are due to substance abuse and do little to help themselves, indeed it is broadly applied to all aspects of poverty. Those on welfare are demonized as lazy and taking advantage of the system. Immigrants receive the same treatment. It greatly impacts how they are treated.

In short they are reduced one dimensional caricatures by hate spreaders like the Daily Mail, when the reality is as you would expect, there is a huge diversity of different people with different, tragic stories for how their life journey led them to situations like homelessness. Mine was just one in a sea of other, far worse experiences.

Social Reporting – Helping Invisible People Become Visible

So one of the most important steps we can take is to challenge these nonsensical and harmful stereotypes that influence people’s perception of those affected: That the homeless community is made up of every possible human story across the spectrum of life you might imagine.

This led me to the idea of ‘Social Reporting’, ways in which this spectrum can be communicated to an audience such that they too come to this realization, on a large scale.

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.

An especially powerful initiative is the Invisible People Youtube series. The host has spent years interviewing homeless people across the world building a vast library of the most painful human experiences you can be exposed to, entirely destroying the idea that there is a single stereotypical homeless story.

Critically it also highlights that from a Social Tech point of view, it doesn’t have to be advanced technologies like the Blockchain or Ai, but rather it’s simple journalism tools that can achieve the most impact. How we might scale their use to achieve a wholesale societal transformation is the key question.


Editor of On a mission to build a world leading Scottish digital nation.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button