Marc Horvath went from a high-paying TV job to homeless in under a year.
“I was homeless on Hollywood Boulevard,” he said.
Now, almost two decades later, the emerging social media guru is trying to give the homeless a voice.
Using Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, Horvath began crisscrossing America listening to stories from the streets, then posting them online.
And people started listening.
“I have had more than 2.4 million YouTube hits alone,” said Horvath.
“And this is homelessness, it’s not Disney.”
After speaking at a homelessness conference in Edmonton last year, Horvath decided to cross the country collecting Canadian stories of homelessness.
Horvath, who’s seen his share of horrors over his travels, began his Canadian journey in June and wasn’t surprised by much until he hit Whitehorse last week.
The situation here is “shocking,” he said.
It’s not just the inflated cost of living in the territory, or the dearth of homeless services that surprised Horvath.
He’s seen those things before.
It’s the fact that the Yukon government has been holding onto almost $20 million in housing money for years.
“I always say bureaucracy kills, and this is a good example,” he said. “Here you are months away from winter and they’re sitting on millions of dollars and they just want to do more research.”
Communities tend to deal with homelessness in one of two ways, he said.
“They either ignore the issue and try to push it away – like moving a tent city – and it never goes away, or you embrace it and start figuring out solutions,” he said.
The territory is clearly ignoring the situation, he said.
Horvath generally tries to avoid wading into the political arena.
But the Yukon government’s inaction is
“unfathomable,” he said.
“That $18 million probably goes pretty fast, but it isn’t going to save any lives sitting in a bank.”
The other thing that surprised Horvath about Whitehorse is how little separation there is between the homeless and the housed.
“I can walk around Vancouver or Kelowna or other cities and I can pretty much narrow it down and say, that person is experiencing homelessness, that is a street person,” he said. “Here, there is no way to tell, unless it’s that chronic drunk person that we all know is out there.”
In Whitehorse, Horvath was collecting stories for Invisablepeople.tv, a project he started after becoming homeless a second time.
The first time, on Hollywood Boulevard, Horvath blames his addictions.
After becoming clean and sober, Horvath pulled his life back together, only to find himself nosediving back into homelessness 10 years later when the economy tanked and the bank foreclosed on his house.
That’s when he started empowering the homeless community by teaching them to blog, use Facebook and tweet.
Horvath also gives out small video cameras as he travels so the homeless can film their own stories and post them online.
Sitting in the Java Connection on Thursday, Horvath was distracted by his phone.
A steady stream of tweets were coming in from his homeless brethren.
“Someone was just kicked out of a mission in San Jose for choosing work over shelter,” he said.
Horvath wants to use social media to start an international conversation about homelessness and build a virtual community.
“Because right now we are not really involving the homeless in the conversation,” he said.
If consumers don’t like a business, like Air Canada, they can talk about it on Twitter, he said.
And if enough people complain, that business will respond.
Horvath wants to create a similar forum for the homeless.
“Homeless services are the only consumer services that don’t listen to the clients they serve,” he said.
“We need to involve the homeless in the solution.”
It helps put a human face on a problem that tends to dehumanize people, he said.
“What people see is the drug abuse, they see the addiction – they don’t see people,” said Horvath.
“That was always interesting to me because in everyone’s family circle there is somebody that’s gone through mental illness or drug addiction.”
Combating homelessness is a complicated problem but it’s a problem that can be solved, he said.
“I really believe we can end homelessness,” he said. “If I didn’t believe it I would stop doing this tomorrow.”
The model Horvath supports is “housing first.”
“You put somebody in a home or an apartment and give them dignity, and then you work on the other stuff, whether it be drug addiction or mental illness,” he said. “I’m a big supporter of housing first, as long as it comes with community and tangible social interaction. That’s so important.”
Whitehorse’s homeless need a champion, said Horvath.
“We’ve just got to stop this bureaucratic madness. Bureaucracy kills,” he said.
“Those people you see down at the liquor store here panhandling, even if you don’t give them money you’re paying for them. The smart solution is to embrace it.”
Contact Josh Kerr at