Best Online Do-Gooder
By 1995, Mark Horvath's L.A. dream life as a successful TV executive had turned sour. He was broke and homeless, living on Hollywood Boulevard. With the help of the Los Angeles Dream Center, Horvath managed to leave the streets, start a flourishing second career and buy his own home. “I even had a 780 credit score,” he jokes. Then the housing crash hit, foreclosure set in, and Horvath again found himself at the end of his rope.
With time on his hands, Horvath hit the streets and began filming the people living there. “It started it off with $45, a camera, a laptop, YouTube and Twitter,” he says. The project became InvisiblePeople.tv, a series of simple interviews that serves as a startling snapshot of modern homelessness.
Horvath, 51, now splits his time between working as a counselor for Ascencia homeless shelter in Glendale and traveling the world filming for Invisible People.
Along the way, he's been able to use social media to help those in need. In Baton Rouge, his followers pitched in to buy shoes for 50 kids who needed them to get to school. In Arkansas, he helped create a farm that's now feeding 150 people a week.
In Calgary, he filmed a 58-year-old man living in a shelter and dying of cancer. After the Calgary Herald put the video on its homepage, the man's long-lost brother of 33 years found him. “He had 53 days with his family before he died,” Horvath says. “It's these little miracles where social media has helped me help other people.”
Up next: “@home,” a feature film financed via Kickstarter, and We Are Visible, a social network for homeless people.
“Webpages for homeless services are donor-centric. They maybe list the board of directors,” Horvath says. “Homeless people are online and they're looking for help, and we're not there for them. So when a homeless person asks for help, another homeless person in another part of the world can say 'Hey, you can do it.' ”
Horvath knows how much social media can mean to someone in need of help. “Twitter saved my life,” he says. “If it wasn't for social media, I would be back out on Hollywood Boulevard.”