Last week someone asked, “Walter, where do you believe the fight for the people of Skid Row- the homeless, HIV/AIDS patients, and otherwise forgotten, ignored and disenfranchised in Los Angeles- is being waged the strongest. Is it in the traditional media, print and broadcasting? Is it in City Hall?”. “No, none of the above!!!” I responded without hesitation. “The battle for the people of Skid Row, the homeless and other similar social causes is being waged fiercely on the internet!!”
From Facebook to the Huffington Post, the new electronic media is an effective megaphone, its advancing the causes that hunger for attention and assistance. An army of advocates, social workers, lawyers and individual citizens engage each other in conversation, debate and recruitment for their cause of choice. Community advocates dispatch mass emails to promote their causes as well as update their constituency with breaking news of ongoing issues. Benito Compito, founder of the Skid Row 3on3 Streetball League, and General Jeff, the DLANC (Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council have been very adroit at utilizing this vehicle.
A Skid Row fraternity is flourishing on the internet and Facebook. Former workers who have transferred out of the neighborhood and current workers, along with past and present denizens, use the most popular and far reaching social network on the internet to stay connected and dialogue about Skid Row issues. . Through this interaction, a viral process increasingly widens its audience as it engages the community and furthers its awareness of various social issues connected to homelessness and mental health. In addition to educating the network community, the phenomena also serves to increase active participation in the form of volunteers and donations.
A deputy city attorney associated with the initial phase of the Safe City Initiative believes the proliferation of the Skid Row community on the internet began out of frustration. “Many of us who worked in Skid Row wanted to make a difference…to get things done… to help people. At times it was frustrating. I used to go to meeting after meeting. It felt like people just wanted to have meetings just to have meetings. Nothing ever got done. Sometimes approved action plans of important matters like removing numerous homeless off the streets and placing them into housing were stalled until a county supervisor received top marquee billing for the plan. It was as if people wanted to sabotage progress. The internet takes ideas straight to the public. We receive immediate feedback and can mobilize support when we post messages.”
Several executive directors of nonprofit organizations active in the Skid Row Community are firm believes in the power of the internet. Andy Bales, CEO, Union Rescue Mission states “Yes, Walter, although Direct mail donations are down, internet giving and Facebook/Twitter/Social Media is gaining momentum for advancing the cause. It is gradually taking the place of Direct Mail for fundraising, and is far superior for connecting with volunteers and stirring up a cause. Grace Dyrness, former CEO, LACEH&H(Los Angeles Coalition to End Hunger and Homelessness)adds “It is so important to communicate on the internet because that is becoming the best way of communication. Our electronic newsletter definitely gets a response (although not in money) and we are finding that as the most effective way to get information out to people. Email has definitely been the best way to work with others when you need a rapid response on issues. Joel John Roberts, CEO, PATH (People Assisting The Homeless) Partners, continues, “I think the partnership between social media and nonprofits is still young. Larger nonprofits are just getting into online media. The power in social media to mobilize communities, empower people who are disenfranchised and for soliciting donations is significant. I think in the next five years it will take off.”
The internet also serves well those journalists with a penchant toward advocacy as an alternative vehicle for their stories. If done well, Celeste Fremon, publisher of Witness LA.com and writer for the Huffington Post says, “When I want to do a story or focus reader attention on someone who would traditionally be voiceless, their problems ignored by the conventional media, I no longer have to persuade an editor to let me do the story. With the advent of blogs and Internet news sites, I can just write the story. And if I'm smart about it, I can get others to pick up my story, so that it migrates to an arena beyond my own readers. At times, this means it migrates to mainstream media, as well.”
If you want to know what is happening in the world of social entrepreneurship, stay on line. Pick a news site, or social network. It is where the action is.