Can a single individual make a dent in the homelessness crisis in America?
Meet Jory John, former programs director at 826 Valencia and creator of The Peanut Butter Plan, and Mark Horvarth, a formerly homeless Hollywood video producer, who is heading back home from a 2 1/2 month long road trip blogging (he's Hardly Normal), photographing, filming, and interacting with community service organizations, volunteers and the nation's homeless for InvisiblePeople.tv.
As new P&J volunteer centers spring up across the US and The Peanut Butter Facebook group swells past 2000, John discusses his quest to expand and improve his fledgling organization, to maximize impact. And Horvarth, on the final leg of his road trip across America, is undoubtedly changed forever by the 'shock and awe' of documenting our nation's 'invisible people."
The most significant thing uniting these two men? The realization that "there's no turning back."
Jory John's daily walk to work from his home in San Francisco's Upper Market district brought him face to face with the city's homeless camps outside the neighborhood's huge Safeway. They were drawn there no doubt, by the huge recycling bins (a source of income), the public toilet, and easy access to relatively affluent shoppers for some 'spare change.'
"One day, I just walked into Safeway, bought a loaf of bread and some peanut butter and jelly, went outside, started making sandwiches and handing them out," John recalls. "Then I got the idea to start a project and publicize it on Facebook. It took a while to gather momentum but now we have 12 groups in cities all around the country. Just last week we passed 2000 members."
In fact, the Peanut Butter Plan also has a chapter in London, where a school teacher is engaging her students in sandwich making.
"I love the idea of kids being involved in this, he says. "The kids make the sandwiches and then the adults pick them up and bring them to distribution points."
The group is constantly evolving, says John. Weekly e-mails among each location's point-people facilitate idea exchanges. In Phoenix, for example, volunteers have begun distributing water along with sandwiches. The menu has also expanded around the country, with the addition of turkey, cheese or cucumber sandwiches. And Jory no longer designates the first Monday of the Month as the group's day of action; when they work and how they set up their plans is totally flexible.
"I think what we are seeing here in America is the beginning of something enormous, he says. "It's a zeitgeist, a collective consciousness which is activating people all over the world to take matters in their own hands and do what they can to change things for the better. Sure, times are pretty frightening, but on the other hand, in terms of this great awakening we're experiencing, it is a very inspiring and exciting time to be alive."
"A lot of people making small changes in their lives can actually make a huge difference," he says.
Peanut Butter Plan from The Quotidian on Vimeo
To become a Point-Person, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Point-Person duties include:
- Inviting all of your friends to parties, asking them to join the Facebook group, keeping them in the loop about events, and helping with general promotion.
- Hosting or ensuring that there’s at least one sandwich-making party in your city or town per month, where people can meet each other, make a ton of sandwiches and coordinate logistics.
- Reminding people in your town about the Peanut Butter Plan (a couple days before the first of every month).
- Sending in any sort of pictures or stories, etc. that could be fun and inspirational, which we’ll post on this site and on the Facebook group.
- If you’re feeling motivated, helping Jory find other Point-People in other cities.
"What we need is a Yelp for nonprofits"
Last July 16, Mark Horvarth departed from Las Vegas on a roadtrip across the country, using social media tools like Twitter to share news and videos depicting the raw truth about homelessness in America. Yesterday, as the former Los Angeles television executive headed towards Chicago, he acknowledged that his journey into the underbelly of America has forever changed his perception of how we, as individuals, ought to be addressing the homeless problem.
"Before I left I used to think it was okay to just go and be a friend to the homeless," says Horvarth, who was himself homeless 14 years ago and is currently unemployed. "Now, what has changed is the realization that we just can’t do this 'Lone Ranger’ mentality anymore. We need to look at our communities and see who is having an impact on homelessness and support them. We need to support those who are helping people with housing and jobs."
Horvarth suggests viewing these two ultra-short videos back-to-back, (one animated, the other real) for a powerful demonstration of the raw impact of homelessness.
Beth's Story: An animation.
Angela from InvisiblePeople.tv on Vimeo. (Angela's Story on InvisiblePeople.tv)
"The most dramatic thing that has really changed me is Angela. I met her under a bridge in Atlanta. I asked her how she occupied her days and she responded she spent her days in church."
"What we need is a nonprofit Yelp, where volunteers can find the places that are effective and those that aren’t. This could also help organizations that aren’t doing it right to wake up and change. It’s not that the organizations are bad. They are tapped. They don’t have enough money or enough training. They are overwhelmed."
Horvarth's advice to volunteers? Don’t be discouraged by your first ‘turn off', or your second. "Do the footwork, because once you find a place where you can make an impact you will stay around and it is so worth it!"
One of Horvarth's favorite homeless services is Laundry Love. The project encourages volunteers to show up once a week with some laundry detergent and quarters. Clean clothes can have a huge impact on an individual's self-esteem and dignity. And a laundromat can become a contact point as well, a place for people to connect to services.
"A friend of mine suggested (and I agree) that what we need is a volunteer iPhone application ... like when you shake your phone it tells you right away a place nearby where you can volunteer," Horvarth says. "We just need an entrepreneur who could develop something like that."
Mobile Loaves and Fishes
Habitat on Wheels: Austin
Interested in contributing to BrokenRoots? We'd love to hear from you! Contact mieprowan or boatsiefor more information, or join our BrokenRoots community. As part of our project, we have begun archiving past 'homeless' diaries. Let us know if you would like to include any of your past diaries in this collection.
"BrokenRoots is a group for bloggers and advocates interested in addressing the issues facing homeless people. Our goal is to a create a network of regional 'stringers,' who can dispatch news and photos from communities across the country to report on the impacts of the economic crisis on the homeless situation. We welcome first person stories, analysis, reporting, and photo-diaries. The BrokenRoots project team writes and promotes Daily Kos diaries and other journalism, forges connections with other blogs, news sources, and organizations; creates collaborative projects; and shares related news and resources." (photo by Stranded Wind)