This may be why there are so many homeless people in DC

A fascinating Washington Post story this morning chronicles the activism of Eric Sheptock, a self-described homeless homeless advocate.  Staying in shelters and using public computers, Sheptock has developed an online presence to give a voice to the plight of the homeless.

And if that hasn’t helped him land a job or a permanent place to stay, it’s because Sheptock wants it that way:

Sheptock, 41, wouldn’t take a 9-to-5 job that compromised his advocacy efforts or the long hours he spends tending to his digital empire, he says. He wouldn’t move out of the downtown D.C. shelter where he has slept for the past two years if it would make him a less effective voice for change.

“Too many homeless people have come to look up to me, and I can’t just walk away from them,” he says in a recent blog post titled “Tough Choices.” “My conscience won’t allow it.”

Having 5,000 friends on Facebook is more important to Sheptock than having $5,000 in the bank. And he lives with the consequences of that every day.

Though he doesn’t seem bothered by being unemployed and homeless, the consequences aren’t limited to Sheptock.  The article describes Sheptock sitting in a shelter’s computer lab, keeping up with his advocacy efforts while other homeless people look for jobs or take online typing courses.  The reality of limited resources means that every minute that Sheptock sits at the computer doing his advocacy work takes a minute away from someone taking the first small steps to escape the cycle of homelessness and poverty.

No matter how important Sheptock’s work is, the first question becomes about what that computer lab – or any other resources – are used for.  And that’s when the real shame of the article becomes apparent: Sheptock seems trapped by an advocacy culture that accepts homelessness as a permanent way of life.

Despite a violent childhood that resulted in what doctors assumed would be lifelong social and mental disabilities, Sheptock is clearly one bright cat.  He understands networking, he understands communication, and he understands the need to speak out for the voiceless.  With the right direction, Sheptock could lead an successful organization (measuring success as number of people helped rather than money, which is the yardstick Sheptock would most likely use).

Along the way, he could wind up with a steady job doing what he loves and a stable home.  Hopefully, Sheptock will get the help he needs to get there.

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