Day 18 – Melody Nixon

In Melody Nixon, nonfiction on July 18, 2011 at 11:39 pm

My leads to volunteer with New York City Services (in an overnight shelter), the Coalition for the Homeless (for the dinner van!), and New York City Coalition Against Hunger (in soup kitchens) have somehow met with dead ends. (Despite many phone calls, phone messages, and emails…) Perhaps this is simply a result of the massive scale of all of the city operations; there are so many people to coordinate, and so few resources.  On Friday I will attend an orientation session with New York Cares, which will enable me to sign up for one of their ‘products’ in the Hunger program – but the product I end up with may or may not involve work with homeless people. As this project progresses I realize I need to seek out alternative ways to connect with the people in whom I am interested.


Chatting with people on the street is thoroughly rewarding, but I feel I need to carry out a more structured interview to really get to the crucial issues I want to address. Each time I chat to a homeless person sitting on the footpath, I stretch my mind trying to recall all the questions I want to ask. How do you think your identity has changed since you became homeless? What about your self-confidence? How do you think your race has played a role in your homelessness? Do you feel that you have a community on the streets here? What would you most desire first – a home, or a community? Can you have one without the other? Even when I do remember these questions, I find it a challenge to slot them in to casual conversation.


There’s also the issue of finding people who are in the right space to reflect on their situation. To this end, the internet is a valuable resource. I have been emailing with some homeless people who blog online, and some who tweet. I’m impressed by the articulate self-reflection and earnestness of many homeless bloggers. One of the people I follow is Mark Horvath, a homeless man turned homed activist from Los Angeles. He is currently on touring Canada documenting cases of homelessness there (presently, he is in Calgary). Horvath advocates working within the dominant sphere of consumer choice to find empowerment. He promotes social networking as a means of connecting homeless people with services. His website offers beginner level tutorials on setting up gmail, twitter, Facebook and other social media accounts. He claims that his service has empowered homeless people to tell their own stories. He claims it has also helped them to reunite with family members and find shelter.


The twitter live feed on is amazing; a constant stream of astounding micro-stories. There’s: @TheHomelessBlog, a man who is living in his car in the U.K. @JayteeStarr is a “homeless youth in NYC” who is “striving to get out of the shelter system and into a good life!” The latest tweet from @homelessgirl1 provides a link to her blog post about how religion made her homeless.


But criticisms of Mark Horvath are widespread and scathing. Some (including Brianna Karp in The Girl’s Guide to Homelessness) claim he is a self-serving individualist (just check out the comment below the Calgary Herald article on his current tour of Canada). Others say that promoting fame as a way for homeless people to be lifted out of poverty is highly problematic. The spotlight of the virtual world can be blinding, and its trends fleeting, and it is debatable whether the internet provides a real community for the disenfranchised. But social media certainly does provide a platform for people’s voices. As the blog of @homelessgirl1 attests, telling one’s story can be a powerful act of self-reclamation.


I’m just waiting for an opportunity to chat with someone like @homelessgirl1, @homelessdebi, or Dark Forbid – a homeless blogger sleeping rough in the U.K. It will happen one day soon, if I wait – as Dark Forbid says, it’s not always easy to get to the free computer at the homeless center, and it takes time to find a spot with free wifi. In the meantime, I might just show up at the door of the Coalition for the Homeless in the city here, and beg to volunteer. They wouldn’t turn me away, right…?


  1. Hi,

    interesting post. Sorry you are having problems connecting in New York City. Try @100hoomes and their parent org Common Ground. Also, Joe Little from New York City Rescue Mission may be able to help. @AliForneyCenter is another favorite.

    Volunteering in homeless services is hard. Here is a post I wrote on the subject please don’t give up trying. You’ll find a place that fits

    Regarding social media connecting homeless people take a look at the posts on Poverty Insights

    You repeat “he claims” a few times. well, this is what happens when you give a homeless mom a video camera and social media

    @padschicago and @lostawareness both are in housing because of social media and (I can present more if you like)

    also interesting is you say the criticisms are widespread and scathing. Actually, there is only a small group of “haters”. I have built a very good reputation which is validated by all the homeless services, communities, governments, cities and states, and now countries that request I visit and work with them. Brianna’s book is not the truth. (just one of many reviews She is a hurting girl trying to hurt others. And as far as the comment on the Calgary Herold, I find it amusing that people focus on hotels instead of the people placed into housing (again- I can present more if you like)

    Please note: I don’t want to do this. I am not self-serving. I want YOU to do it. I want to get a normal job and get a normal life again. I don’t make a penny doing this and there is not even enough money to get back to LA. The stress at times is unbearable. Yes, I travel. But it’s a crazy amount of work and far from glamorous. It’s very lonely and exhausting. But I don’t see any other homeless advocate making the impact has on a community.

    Here is the deal, I will stop tomorrow if the impact affecting real, positive change stops.. I did not set out to tour Canada. I wasn’t going to do this again, but the Canadian Government asked me to help them start a national movement that is going to save lives and money. Miracle after miracle happen when I enter a community.

    I have reached some perceived success in the last two years. That has brought on a small group of people who slam me when they can. I don’t understand it, but I guess that is life. All I can do is focus on the hurting people in front of me and try to help them. I have given my life to help fight homelessness. I am not perfect, but unlike many other homeless advocates these days, I do more than talk – I literally work hard to get people off the streets. I use every tool I can to help people and I’ll continue to do so. The sacrifices I make on a daily basis to help others is far more than most people will give, including those people that criticize me.

    Change is hard, I understand I rock the boat and challenge the process. Anyone working in homeless services needs to ask if they are maintaining homelessness or doing something to solve it. If they are only maintaining they need to change.

    Not sure I understand the project you have here, but if you need help connecting to homeless people on social media or homeless services let me know. I’ll do what I can to help.

    Thanks for letting me rant 🙂


    • Hey Mark,

      Thank you for taking the time to stop by and tell us your side of the story. I appreciate it. The examples you use to back up your claims are compelling. There are certainly always voices of criticism out there if you are doing anything out of the ordinary.

      Your contacts have really helped… I now have volunteer work lined up with New York City Rescue Mission. Your piece on how difficult it is to volunteer was reassuring – in a way – as it helped me understand this experience of finding closed doors is typical – though also a real shame, of course, because it means that help doesn’t get to where it needs to be. I like your idea of using volunteers to visit the newly re-homed, and provide social contact. That’s something I would love to do.

      My project is to write everyday about the situation of the homeless here in NYC, and to write about homelessness more generally, in order to try to understand the reality of the situation for many homeless people in this city, to try to dispel the myths we are taught about homeless people, and to try to paint a picture of the landscape of the homeless, which may extend well beyond sleeping rough on the streets to itinerancy and emotional homelessness.

      Thank you for your offer and I would appreciate any more advice you have on how to connect to homeless people on social media (I would love to hear any stories they’d like to share) and with direct-service workers in homeless services (who I would like to interview), especially those who would be willing to talk face to face about their experiences serving the homeless.

      You can also email me back: melodynixon|at|gmail|dot|com

      ~ Melody

  2. From my friend Martha in NY:

    “Hey Ruby Our friend Pam Parlapiano (an amazing human being — photographer whose work is in MOMA, the National Portrait Gallery, and other museums), has been teaching photography to the homeless at Pathways for the Homeless for a couple of decades. She thinks she can help Melody and says Melody should call her. (Pam always wants to meet someone personally first). Pam also has a charity called MothersToMothers, which has raised money for scholarships for untouchable girls in Mumbai, opened a computer center there, and just built a daycare center in Ethiopia that serves 300+ children a day. She thinks Melody is a great writer and really looks forward to meeting her. “

  3. Hey thanks for mentioning me and just wanted to say Hi

  4. Thanks for stopping by Nadia! Follow us on Twitter @collaboratElab and I’ll message you direct. 🙂

  5. […] Day 18 – Melody Nixon ( […]

  6. @JayteeStarr here. I’d gladly do an interview with you. I’ve got a lot of balls in the air, as they say, and I’m not the best juggler. I haven’t been very active online, but if you send me an email with your questions then I will answer them.

  7. […] Day 18 – Melody Nixon ( […]

  8. […] Day 18 – Melody Nixon ( […]

  9. […] Day 18 – Melody Nixon ( […]

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