The homeless and the need for Facebook

Is Facebook and other social media becoming a necessity for the homeless?

An Ohio researcher thinks so. Art Jipson, an associated sociology professor at the University of Dayton, says the homeless may not have a place to live, but the one possession that’s becoming somewhat indispensable is a phone to connect on social networks.


“Our posts become the commercial property of corporations that will do everything possible to generate revenue in the form of value for the company and stockholders rather than for the users,” Jipson said. “But, for homeless users of social media – which is a growing population – the value is for the online community itself, which is very egalitarian.”

Jipson’s inspiration for the project came by happenstance. Also a researcher of the sociology of music, Jipson has a weekly radio show on the campus radio station, WUDR. When Jipson asked for one caller’s name and location, he was surprised to find the caller was homeless but has a cell phone. Jipson later contacted the caller and found he used the phone for social media – checking and writing messages on Facebook and Twitter.

He also found Facebook was necessary to solve practical problems — the next meal or a warm place to sleep.

He also found homeless people who are tired of defending the fact they’ve got a cellphone.

“Why can’t I be on Facebook?,” asked one subject in the study. “I have as much right to that as anyone else. Just because I am homeless does not mean that I don’t care about this stuff, you know? My family is on Facebook. My friends are on Facebook. People who care about me are on Facebook.”

  • Snyder

    I don’t disagree that the homeless should be on Facebook or Twitter. I just wonder how they pay the bill for their cell phone? Where does it get sent to?

  • Tim

    There’s always prepaid phones and phone cards, for one. Or maybe they have a P.O. box, or get mail at a shelter or friend’s place.

  • Kassie

    Anyone can have mail sent to any post office with their name plus the address listed as:

    General Delivery

    City, State, Zip

    General Delivery has long been the one place family and friends could count on for communicating with the homeless. Cell phones have changed that dramatically and have made the barriers of getting out of homelessness smaller. You can’t get a job without a phone number or, as of late, an email address. Smart phones serve both of those needs.

  • Tim

    Indeed. I can’t take anyone seriously who complains about a homeless person having a cell phone, or even a computer, really, given how necessary they are to find work and generally function in modern society. It’s hard for someone to improve their situation without the means to do so.

    It reminds me of the story from yesterday about the young people living together who didn’t have much money (despite working and having an education) and were sharing someone’s food stamps in order to eat more economically. Somehow, people inexplicably were offended by that.

  • tryphena

    OK, some have the phone, and no service. They use wifi to get on internet. General Delivery technically is only for a month, but they can find ways of getting around that. Phone companies can have their bills paid online though too. PO Box requires physical address, both require valid ID, which you can’t get without an address. So those options are only good for so long…