Tweets2Rue: Making Homeless Connections

Homelessness appears to be on the rise France; in 2012, INSEE (Institut National de la statistique et des études économiques) noted that the official number [fr] of people living “sans domicile fixe” (SDF, without a fixed home) reached 141,500. This was a 50% rise from 2001 (as reported by Libération [fr]).

According to a charity-driven study (reported in le Parisien [fr]), as poverty increases among the most vulnerable, the standard of living decreases for many families already living on the edge. As a blog post on the Guardian's website put it,

2009 poll found that a staggering 56% of French people felt they could one day be homeless themselves, 75% felt “solidarity” with rough sleepers.

On October 17, the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, five homeless people gained the means to narrate their everyday lives on Twitter, an idea originating with young people who live in disadvantaged neigbhorhoods of Paris and involved in Génération Réactive [fr], an organisation hoping to develop of new ways to solve urban problems through “collective intelligence” (says project co-founder Emmanuel Letourneux).

The Génération Réactive website [fr] explains the Twitter-based project as a combination of communication and new media with the struggle against social exclusion of people living in highly precarious situations, hoping to enable them to build their own a network of support.

Pourquoi Tweets 2 Rue ?

  • Parce que les personnes sans domicile fixe sont des citoyens et des sujets à part entière, qui ont beaucoup à partager et souhaitent souvent rompre leur isolement.
  • Parce que personne n’est mieux placé que les premiers concernés pour parler de la situation des personnes sans domicile fixe.
  • Pour favoriser un usage vraiment social des réseaux sociaux et encourager les solidarités au delà des cercles habituels.

 Why Tweets 2 Rue?

  • Because homeless people are fully-fledged people and citizens, who have much to share and often wish to get away from their isolation.
  • Because no one is better situated to speak about the problems of the homeless than the homeless themselves.
  • To promote a really social use of social media, and to to encourage solidarity beyond the usual circles of support.

blog was dedicated to the project, where these men introduced themselves and explained some of their problems and hopes. A Twitter account specific to the initiative, @tweets2rue retweets their posts and creates a platform where followers can discuss and interact.

And how are these five men using the platform? Like any other Twitter user, they post updates on their daily lives, often about the difficulties of finding a good place to sleep or of not having appropriate shoes, writing often with a lot of slang (note: the numbers listed were measured on November 12, 2013).

Patrick M. @kanter57640 (1278 tweets, 33 following, 1799 followers) is by far the most talkative. He exchanges with his followers about his job-search, and his ideas on life:

A job would already be tremendous, the hen coop [apartment] can wait

Speaking up is one thing. What needs to be done is a change of mindsets

Sébastien Moustik @DjamaikaPtiseb (56 tweets, 36 following, 1618 followers) likes making little projects:

How to find oneself a friend when you're living in the street and he is always there

The tweets also reflect the extreme seriousness of living on the streets. Nicolas @nickopompons (149 tweets, 43 following, 2259 followers) is worried:

I'm better but the fact they want to take away from me my daughter and my dogs drives me crazy so need to bite the bullet

Ryan (@Usher226 (20 tweets – some 20 tweets seem to have been deleted – 23 following, 1541 followers), recently has been tweeting about the increasingly and dangerously cold weather, communicating with the other members of the project:

It's really cold kanter! I only need a sleeping bag.

It's really cold here in Metz it's really hard to find a place under cover. I'm turned into ice from the cold, I'm freezing myself.

Ryan also tweets about one of the other participants, Manu @115toimeme:

(Audio) Manu remembers to his friend Karamoko who died of cold in his arms, one year ago to the day

But hopeful posts appear as well. The same Manu @115toimeme (359 tweets, 55 following and 706 followers) came to Paris from Cote d'Ivoire:

Am going to request a work permit in France if possible get a degree equivalence, I did 2 years of college

The initiative has attracted a lot of media coverage, making news on Stream Aljazeera and in the French blogosphere. Blogger corto74 deems [fr] the initiative “utter voyeurism”:

Que se passera-t-il le 15 mars pour les cinq nouveaux héros de nos tweetlines lorsque l'opération prendra fin? On ne le sait pas trop. Peut-être seront-ils sauvés, extraits de la rue par un généreux compatissant, peut-être retourneront-ils dans l'anonymat, peut-être aussi qu'ils auront fourgué leur smart au marché noir… Allez savoir, pour l'instant, on s'en fout, ce n'est pas le sujet, on vous livre leurs vies en 140 caractères.

What is going to happen on March 15 [end of the project] for the five new heroes of our tweetlines once the initiative comes to an end? Nobody really knows. Maybe they will be saved, pulled out from the street by a big-hearted sympathetic [person], maybe they will go back to anonymity, or maybe they'll scalp their smartphones… Who knows, anyway for now who cares, that's not the topic, you're fed their lives in 140 characters.

However, many netizens were enthusiastic. Technologies freelance entrepreneur Anathalie Mukundwa greets the initiative:

Hello & Welcome @tweets2rue Feeling very emotional while reading from your website! Beautiful project

Technologies-friendly website Youphil praises [fr] the initiative:

…cette campagne numérique est probablement plus efficace pour sensibiliser les gens à l’exclusion que les campagnes d’affichage, parfois misérabilistes, qui ne permettent pas vraiment de comprendre ce que vivent les sans-abris… Par ailleurs, la fracture numérique, que ce soit le manque d’accès aux nouvelles technologies ou le manque de compétences pour les utiliser, est un facteur d’exclusion important…

…this digital campaign is most likely more efficient in raising awareness of social exclusion than those poster campaigns that are focused on wretchedness and do not allow to grasp what the homeless are experiencing… Besides, the digital gap, be it a lack of access to new technologies or a lack of skills to use them, is a big factor of social exclusion…

The project is supported by four groups, the Abbé Pierre Foundation [fr], France Inter [fr], la Fondation Agir [fr], and Génération Réactive.

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