Sunday, June 19, 2011

What is #EmPowerConnect?

::grin:: I'm not getting asked often enough "What is EmPower Connect?"

And what the heck has it got to do with Thumbs Up for Homeless People you may be asking.

If you're not asking ::chortle:: I'm asking for you!

EmPower Connect is a joint effort between and Project Peer Return Support Network to bring computer and mobile connectivity to those most in need: homeless friends who are not yet housed.

Launched September 2010, WeAreVisible has grown into one of the many phenomenal communities available for homeless, and homeless service providers to reach out and touch someone.

The Facebook and Twitter online communities of WeAreVisible are eloquently managed and facilitated by @CareyFuller, currently a homeless mom.  She does this work as a volunteer, while writing professionally, taking care of her family and seeking enough income to procure a home and childcare.

Of course, there is Mark Horvath, road-warrior (@hardlynormal) bringing the stories of all the homeless he comes across to life on

Project Return Peer Support Network is Los Angeles County's oldest program run by and for people with mental illness.  Their motto is "taking charge together."

They are also a truly awesome 501(c)(3) organization that wrote a grant to provide me (as an outreach/training/expression volunteer with WeAreVisible) with two laptops and mifi to be able to reach my comrades in the street and not be tangled up trying to get to facilities where computers are available to the low-income, poverty-living, and homeless.

We work diligently to provide training and support, and have had phenomenal success with the people we've touched so far.

PATHAchieve Glendale has been instrumental in many of the success stories springing from EmPower Connect.

Currently a couple residing at the shelter are learning the basics of computer use:

They've spent time learning how to get the computer to do what they want it to; how to research online;  where to go when they have questions and how to access their data. provided the flashdrives to keep their precious data files on, as well!

Icing on the cake? -- As the EmPower Connect volunteer on-site at PATHAchieve, I've had the opportunity to assist in setting up the couple's resumes in Word, and the hugs I've received in return are absolutely, without a doubt, among some of the best in the world.  (Consider that a great thing, because I have the benefit of having learned the fine art of hugging by receiving them from masters like @JeffPulver at the #140conference!)

The opportunity now to brainstorm on expanding the project to a non-crisis toll free peer support network component, reaching out to recently housed within their first 6 months thrills me.

I believe the recidivism rates of homelessness can be transformed and dramatically lowered with active outreach to provide access to social community.

I was only homeless for 7 months recently -- that's an exceedingly short time to be homeless; many of my compatriots have been without housing for years, even decades.

It's not just as simple as putting a person in a house and expecting that to resolve the issue so you can move onto housing the next person/family.

Even with as little time as I spent during this episode of homelessness, it's difficult to adjust to being housed.  When you are housed, you lose your community.  For example, I am well out of the area where I had friends among the homeless community.  I am isolate.

Now, I'm the kind of person that adjusts well to being isolate. And even for me it hasn't been easy.  I write, tweet, and FaceBook post to keep in touch with people.

To be part of a community.

Having access to social media tools is integral for my social/mental health.

I am not unlike anyone else in this respect. Everyone needs community, I believe lack of validating, acknowledging community to be a reason for gangs, dysfunctional relationships, and many other disasterous bondings in the human social realm.

It wasn't until I spent time with a brilliant EMDR therapist recognizing memories I've buried very deeply, that I became aware I have been homeless many times in the past.  It simply wasn't labeled as homelessness, because I wasn't an addict, prostitute, obviously mentally challenged, or otherwise socially unpresentable.

My homelessness cycle originally spawned at the tender age of 17 1/2 when I ran away from home to prevent myself from committing suicide. At that time homelessness for me was called "being a runaway".

Over the years, in cycles of months to years, I've lived on the streets and on other people's couches at least 8 times (other than August 5, 2010 thru February 2, 2011).  It was called "inbetween jobs, inbetween house/animal sitting gigs, and inbetween relationships."

Having support and encouragement to assist with acclimation to being housed and the facilitation to gain new or reinforce existing community is critical not only to ending homelessness, but to preventing it for the many who face homeless now.

Transforming, ending and preventing homelessness is something all of us at We Are Visible hold dear to our hearts.

Thumbs Up For Homeless People is a way you can recycle your unused thumb drives to transform someone else's life.

It's a little thing and it goes a long way.

You don't have to train anyone to be an EmPower Connector -- you are one now. You're online and you have the ability to acknowledge and validate others.

And if I haven't been clear, by all means, ask me,

"Hey Rd, what is EmPower Connect?"

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