Homeless in a Digital Age

A Proposal For Using Media to Combat Homelessness

By Rachael Potts, Raymundo Pedroza, Kahealani Simmons, Scott Ault, and Cameron Stover (California State University, East Bay).

Faculty Adviser: Nolan Higdon (California State University, East Bay)

Statement of Problem

Human rights are special, basic interests set apart from moral rights (Clapham, 2015, p. 5). Human rights encompass areas such as access to food, access to education, access to healthcare and its determinants, and access to adequate housing. Human rights laws protect these areas of life because they are essential to the survival and growth of a nation.

Homelessness is a problem that is prominent in the Bay Area. According to ABC7 News, a survey conducted by San Francisco showed the city ranked second nationally with 795 homeless per 10,000 residents (Sze, 2016). There are many ways that you can be defined homeless. People who live unsheltered, people without income that live on the streets, people who have some type of income, such as government assistance, but do not have a permanent address. Even families can be homeless, which happens when two or more people do not have a permanent address or regular financial income.

Media plays a huge role in depicting how the public sees homeless people. Homeless people are portrayed as lazy and crazy people without motivation to go out there and get jobs to make it in life. Bill O’Reilly once said on his show The O’Reilly factor “The ACLU wants to force society to house people who will not support themselves, who will not do it, because they want to get drunk, or they want to get high, or they want — they do not want to work, they’re too lazy.” (Fishel, 2007). It’s these media representations of homeless people that twist the public’s mind, making homeless people to be something they are not.

Homelessness is an issue of human rights for a myriad of reasons, but most importantly because one of the basic rights is housing. The very definition of homelessness is a lack of housing, which shows that it is a blatant violation of human rights. Many people fail to recognize this, however, and insist it’s a decision or consequence of their decisions, but fail to acknowledge or understand that living without housing is not only a violation of the housing aspect of human rights, but really shows that those who are homeless are being dehumanized, forced to live outside, on the outskirts of society. ACME, a media literacy coalition, published a piece on the Rights of a Child and explained that included in them are “the right to have a family life, to be protected from violence” (2016). These basic rights are not being met when the children are living in homelessness; their situation prevents them from having a family life and prevents to allow them to be protected from danger.

Homelessness has become a prominent problem in California. It is a growing epidemic that affects every member our communities. Majority of the homeless include families, veterans, and college students. The biggest factor that has led to the increase of homelessness in California is due to rising housing costs. Proposition 13 capped the state’s property taxes in 1978. This severely affected the young and the poor in a negative fashion. It fixed statewide property tax rate at 1% and applied it to the purchase price with a small annual rate of increase, rather than the market value of the home. This means that as home values skyrocket, property taxes do not. Essentially, it is a rent-controlled subsidy for Californians who bought in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Prop 13 changed the way that cities gain revenue. Now, most taxes come from hotels, dealerships, and various another businesses. This means that it is more profitable to build a strip mall than it is to build affordable housing (Grabar, 2016).

Defining humanity as “…ensuring that everyone is treated with respect for their inherent dignity and human worth” (p. 10), Clapham (2015) shows that we should not just stand by as the numbers of the homeless grow. We need to shine light on this epidemic before we all end up in the same situation.

Organizations Working to Combat Homelessness

Homelessness is a major problem in nationwide, but specifically in the Bay Area where housing prices continue rise and resources for the overwhelming number of homeless individuals continues to fall. Three organizations that are dealing with homelessness in the Bay Area are Shepherd’s Gate, Jazzie’s Place, and the Homeless Prenatal Group.

Shepherd’s Gate is located at 1660 Portola Avenue in Livermore, CA. They are a charity who works with women and children who are homeless due to abuse or neglect. Shepherd’s Gate works in Livermore and Brentwood, but the main offices are located in Livermore. They provide shelter, education opportunities, food, counseling, and job training to women and children. Furthermore, they provide short term housing while women are trying to re-establish a self-sustaining lifestyle for them and their children. They operate because they want to help women escape homelessness, as well as abusive relationships. They want to make sure that women have a safe place to go to escape the cycle of homelessness and abuse. They provide housing and support through the two campuses to assist women and children. They initially started in 1984, but opened their Livermore campus in 2000 to be able to house up to 70 people. The Brentwood campus opened in 2006 to house up to 25 people.

The Homeless Prenatal Program is an organization located on 2500 18th street in San Francisco. The HPP has been running since 1989, making them in operation for 26 years. The HPP transformed their mission from specifically focusing on prenatal care for mothers to now breaking the cycle of childhood poverty. Built on a foundation of supportive, nonjudgmental case management, we empower families, particularly mothers motivated by pregnancy and parenthood, to recognize their strengths and trust in their own capacity to transform their lives. The Homeless Prenatal Program has 3 major goals: Insure that people have healthy deliveries of infants, and successfully bond with their infants; ensure that parents are knowledgeable, motivated and empowered to support their children’s success and healthy development; and ensure that families have access to information and resources that move them towards permanent, stable housing and economic self-sufficiency. The HPP addresses human rights issues by considering the issue of homeless people and pregnancy. The HPP is only running Homeless Prenatal Program in the Bay Area.

Jazzie’s Place is a new 24-bed shelter space aimed to serve the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and gender non-conforming San Franciscans experiencing homelessness. Jazzie’s Place is named after Jazzie Collins, a transgender woman who fiercely advocated for LGBTQ housing and services before she passed away. It is located at 1050 S. Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco and is part of Dolores Street Community Services. There are separate sections for male-identified, female-identified, and gender nonconforming folks, so people will be able to self-identify which would be best suited for themselves. According to Jazzie’s Place, nearly one in three homeless individuals identifies as LGBT in San Francisco. The urgent need for LGBTQ-identified staff to the Jazzie’s place shelter thereby prioritizing a safe environment for the community. Jazzie’s Place is celebrated as an opportunity for community engagement around expanding safety-net services for the LGBTQ community here in San Francisco.

Media and Communication Solutions

Social media campaigns have been successful cultivating awareness and funds for projects focused on societal ills. We propose that media can be a solution to homelessness and its ill effects. Looking at the success of the Project4Awesome on YouTube, we would like to enact a social media campaign on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to raise awareness for a live stream that will take place on YouTube, where we would have local homeless come on and share their stories about what it’s like to be homeless, how they got there, and experiences. Furthermore, we would like to reach out to celebrities who have previously been homeless to join us and discuss their experiences. The livestream will be conducted for 48 hours straight. The reason for the 48 hours is so that people all over the world can join in and watch the livestream as it is happening live, rather than seeing previous recordings. We want to make sure that everyone who is watching the livestream is watching it live, rather than a previous recording. During the livestream, we would have a GoFundMe campaign where streamers can donate while listening to the stories of those speaking.

The money raised from the livestream will be distributed in various ways. First, the participants in the livestream telling their stories will receive some money so they can be helped from their participation. Secondly, most the money will be distributed to local homeless shelters, such as FESCO, Jazzie’s Place, the transgendered homeless shelter, Shepherd’s Gate, and the Homeless Prenatal Program. We believe that this would be appropriate because the local shelters are all in need of funding and working for the same grants, so being able to give them donations directly would help their financial issues.

There will not be any financial commitment upfront. YouTube does not charge for streaming service and GoFundMe does not charge to set up a fundraiser. GoFundMe launched in 2010 and is the world’s largest social fundraising platform. It does not charge fees for missing goals and does not force a deadline. We will owe a percentage of the donations. We will not know how much money it will “cost” until after our fundraiser. They do take 7.9% of donations, plus $.30 per each donation. 5% is taken by GoFundMe for use of their platform and 2.9% is taken for the payout process. Doing our live stream will be bring a significant amount of coverage to the issue of homelessness in Hayward, but additional coverage will be needed as well. We will address this problem by bringing up the livestream to all the local news stations such as Kron4, ABC7 and KTVU. Using these local news stations to gain coverage, our livestream will reach the 7 million residents of the Bay Area much easier.

This livestream will only be the start. It will serve as a immediate solution to ad those who participate in the project, and also on a long term scale bringing awareness to the problem of homelessness in the Bay Area in an attempt to bring in more resources for shelter such as Jazzie’s Place, FESCO, and HPP. Homelessness is a problem that cannot be solved in one weekend, however, a social media campaign combined with a 48-hour livestream at Hayward Bart. Because of the lack of funds from grants and local contributions, many organizations lack the funds required to aid a large percentage of all those suffering from homelessness in Hayward. The livestream will call on people across the world to help the people they are seeing.


If you are interested in helping this project come to fruition, please contact our faculty adviser Nolan Higdon: NolanHigdonProjectCensored@gmail.com



Clapham, A. (2015). Human rights: a very short introduction. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.

Fishel, B. (2007, October 10). O’Reilly: The homeless “will not support themselves” because “they want to get drunk” and “high,” or they’re just “too lazy”. Retrieved January 30, 2017, from http://mediamatters.org/research/2006/04/21/oreilly-the-homeless-will-not-support-themselve/135463

Grabar, H. (2016, September 22). These Graphs Explain Why California’s Property-Tax Regime Is the Worst. Retrieved March 11, 2017, from http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2016/09/22/california_s_proposition_13_is_bad_policy_and_here_are_some_graphs_to_show.html

Media Education and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. (2016, November 22). Retrieved January 30, 2017, from https://acmesmartmediaeducation.net/2016/11/21/media-education-and-the-convention-on-the-rights-of-the-child/

Sze, K. (2016, June 29). Data shows SF has 2nd highest homeless population in US. Retrieved January 30, 2017, from http://abc7news.com/news/data-shows-sf-has-2nd-highest-homeless-population-in-us/1407123/


Rachael Potts is a 21 year old Communications and Ethnic Studies double major at CSUEB. She is the current lab assisting for the Communications Lab, servicing freshman in the public speaking course. She hopes to pursue higher learning and become a college professor.


Raymundo Pedroza is a 23 year old Comm student finishing up his last quarter at CSUEB. following graduation, he hopes to continue working full time on vehicles, and hopefully run his own repair business on day.


Kahealani Simmons is a 23 year old Communications major. Her plan is to work in Human resources at a successful corporation.


Scott Ault is a 26 year old Communications major and Political Science minor. He intends to work behind the scenes in politics performing such tasks as speech writing and campaign running.


Cameron Stover is a 24 year old Communications major. He currently works in the sports production field and hopes to continue after graduation.






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Nolan Higdon is a professor of English, Communication, and History of the US and Latin America in the San Francisco Bay Area. His academic work focuses on nationalism, propaganda, and critical media literacy education. He sits on the boards of the Media Freedom Foundation, Sacred Heart University's Media Literacy and Digital Culture Graduate Program, the Union for Democratic Communications Steering Committee, and the Northwest Alliance For Alternative Media And Education. Higdon is ta co-founder for the Global Critical Media Literacy Project. He has contributed chapters to Censored 2013-2017 as well as Stephen Lendman’s Ukraine: How the US Drive for Hegemony Risks World War III (2014). He has published articles on media and propaganda including “Disinfo Wars: Alex Jones War on Your Mind (2013),” “Millennial Media Revolution (2014),” and “Justice For Sale (2015).” He has been a guest on national radio and television programs.
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