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.

Happy Blog Action Day

In case you missed it, today is Blog Action Day – a day when blogs all around the internet talk about a certain issue and link to sites that talk about that certain issue. Today’s issue that we are taking action on is poverty. How, you may ask, are bloggers taking action? Let’s go right to the horse’s mouth:

“Blog Action Day is an annual nonprofit event that aims to unite the world’s bloggers, podcasters and videocasters, to post about the same issue on the same day. Our aim is to raise awareness and trigger a global discussion. “

At this point, I feel compelled to say that “awareness” and “discussion” are not “action.” They are awareness and discussion. “Action” involves volunteering or donating. It’s easy to link to a non-profit whose job it is to call on more government funding to help these people out. That’s a lazy solution for people who want to feel like they have made a difference without getting their hands dirty.

But even though the temperature has been in the 80s this week in Your Nation’s Capital, it’s going to get cold soon, and there are going to be folks who can’t pay the home heating bill – or worse, don’t have a place to call home at all. There are always too many people who, for whatever reason, can’t get enough to eat.

As a good friend of mine once said, poverty is not a social problem – it’s a personal problem. Each person who suffers from poverty, homelessness, or hunger has their own path to that destination. That’s why small, local charities are the best equipped to deal with it through personal attention and help.

Your local homeless shelter, your church, or any number of community charities can use your time – and the people they help will appreciate it. So take action.