Invisiblepeople.tv brings realities of homelessness to ‘net’
“Never let a good crisis go to waste,” says Mark Horvarth, founder of InvisiblePeople.tv.
And to Horvath, homelessness in the United States is a crisis.
Having been homeless, no less than twice in his 49 years, he should know.
The first time he was homeless was 16 years ago, when Hollywood Boulevard became his nest after losing a good TV job. A Filipino couple from a Los Angeles church called the Dream Center took him in and helped him back on his feet.
Eventually, he got another television job and had a three-bedroom house with a two-car garage, plus a 780 credit score. He was living the American Dream. Then the economy crashed. “I lost my job, and then I lost another. I went through 19 months of unemployment, with temp jobs now and then,” he said.
When his house was foreclosed he took stock and saw that he still had his car, a laptop, an iPhone and a camera.
He went on a road trip and along the way, founded InvisiblePeople.tv, a vlog with interviews of homeless people he met along the way.
He used social media, including Twitter, to broadcast stories like Angela’s to the world because it was a free means of promotion. He shared stories of people living under a bridge, in a tent city or in cardboard boxes.
Of the lives that he has chronicled, Horvarth says the story of Angela hit him the most.
On video, Angela has very little to say, but her eyes, her accent, her vocal tone, the mat she sits on in the grass within a tent city, a few belongings in a bag, are all very articulate.
When asked how life goes she says, “not good.” When asked what she would wish for, she has nothing to say at all. However, she says that she prays. Angela led Horvarth to see that he was on track with InvisiblePeople.tv.
Horvath’s brand of citizen journalism covering the plight of the homeless touched a nerve with those who hang out online, so much so that a few months ago InvisiblePeople.tv’s Youtube channel ended up on the front page of YouTube having attracted two million hits.
According to Horvath, those two million viewers weren’t just gawking at homeless people. Some of them got out and became change makers.
“Housing and feeding programs were started; 50 homeless kids who could not go to school because they didn’t have shoes suddenly had brand new shoes within an hour of my visit, thanks to social media,” he says.
Perhaps among the most generous donations was some 40 acres of land that a farmer gave to help poor families in an area school. And this, H would like to think, is just the beginning, because ironically, Horvarth himself is still homeless.
He says even if he were steadily employed he would still document homelessness, and dreams about filming homelessness in different countries, particularly in the Philippines because of the help he got from Pastor Gus (now deceased) and Lily of Dream Center, the couple that put his life back on track when he was first homeless 16 years before.
Horvarth says everybody should work together if homelessness is to be resolved. “The church has a good heart, they give food, food stamps, but they have no impact. They should not work as lone rangers,” he says.
Instead, he says they have to work together with the nongovernmental organizations, and with government. Everybody has to cooperate. He says if every person took in one homeless person, homelessness in America could be eliminated.
When one reviews the fruit of Horvarth’s crisis, one is amazed. Aside from the homeless who benefited from his vlog he has also, on a budget of near zero, made perhaps the most comprehensive, authentic and viewer-friendly study on homelessness today with popular appeal, and with no shortfall on emotion.
He has also documented model programs that have successfully addressed chronic homelessness in the U.S. and he is well qualified when he tells us what works and what needs to be done to put an end to this problem.
He is also in a credible position when he poses this warning, “We have a perfect storm of homelessness coming,” he says. That is, unless the current economic crisis is effectively addressed.
Horvarth’s crisis—including unsophisticated equipment, has provided a greater understanding of the new media’s possibilities. A vlog, with many different videos on a single subject, takes the shape of a “video book.” When well done, it is succinct yet comprehensive.
Perhaps he has also stumbled onto a new genre of visual media art. Many years ago cinema verite came into being by D.A. Pennebaker. Horvarth notes that reality TV is edited, but he has to edit while he is filming. The stark absence of graphics and music ironically works well with his subject matter.
Horvarth has the skill to understand pacing, timing, the strength of the close up, and the drama when panning out at the right moment. He has a sixth sense for the art of the interview and he can draw the story out of the subject very well. He knows pictures far outdo words.
If Horvarth had a scriptwriter, a production team, a director, a cameraman, an editor, InvisiblePeople.tv would lose its authenticity. It might not have had two million viewers nor generated as many benefits as it has for homeless Americans.