Homeless DC Man Uses Social Networking to Advocate for the Homeless

I saw this brother’s story over at the Washington Post and I had to share. Also, since there’s a soft spot in my heart for the homeless, I decided to friend him on Facebook. I don’t know, I think what he’s doing is great. He’s using new world technology which one would think would be a last resort as far as availability to folks caught in a bad spot. But to me, his story is inspirational; and also, a good example of what can be accomplished with the use of social networking as a tool for awareness and change. But somehow, I can hear detractors wishing that this brother get a real job; and become, a productive member of society.

Eric Sheptock has 4,548 Facebook friends, 839 Twitter followers, two blogs and an e-mail account with 1,600 unread messages. What he doesn’t have is a place to live.

“I am a homeless homeless advocate,” he often tells people. That’s the line that hooks them, the one that gives Sheptock – an unemployed former crack addict who hasn’t had a permanent address in 15 years – his clout on the issue of homelessness.

His Facebook friends and Twitter followers include policymakers, advocates for the homeless and hundreds of college students who have heard him speak on behalf of the National Coalition for the Homeless.

Being homeless has become Sheptock’s full-time occupation. It’s work that has provided him with purpose and a sense of community. But it’s also work that has perpetuated his homelessness and, in a way, glorified it.

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.”

Having 5,000 friends on Facebook is more important to Sheptock than having $5,000 in the bank. And he lives with the consequences of that every day. 

[…] On most days, Sheptock takes a shower as soon as he wakes and then walks the four miles from the shelter near Judiciary Square to Thrive DC, a nonprofit organization in Mount Pleasant where he gets a free breakfast and Internet access. On the days he can afford it, he’ll take the bus.

His income varies. November was a good month: He made $330 from his blog posts ($25 a pop at Change.org) and his speeches ($40 for those he gives in the Washington region and $100 for those farther away).

[…] Ask city officials about Sheptock, and they’ll describe the countless e-mails they’ve gotten from him complaining about the D.C. government’s performance on homelessness.

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.

His e-mail signature includes his cellphone number, links to his blogs and a slogan: “Outgoing Mayor Fenty has a headache and his headache has a name – Eric Jonathan Sheptock.” Then he offers Fenty’s office number. (Read More)