Courtesy of Chris Walter
Mark Horvath started Invisiblepeople.tv to bring awareness to homeless men and women who are often ignored. Support for Horvath's Web site has grown tremendously thanks to social media.
Mark Horvath started Invisiblepeople.tv to bring awareness to homeless men and women who are often ignored. Support for Horvath's Web site has grown tremendously thanks to social media. Courtesy of Chris Walter
Most people have never walked down the street and looked for homeless people before — most look the other way. But not Mark Horvath.
A former Hollywood insider, Horvath has been a drug addict, con artist and, for a brief period, homeless. He says he's left that life behind, and these days, he's drawing on his dark past to inspire his Web site — Invisiblepeople.tv. The site is a collection of YouTube-length video profiles of homeless people he's met across the country, and it's become a surprise hit in social media circles.
'It's So Raw'
Horvath heads down Hollywood's Walk of Fame, looking for homeless people. When he finds someone, he reaches into an overstuffed backpack and pulls out a bag of fresh white socks. Nearly everyone takes a pair. And when they do, Horvath pulls out a video camera and asks if he can interview them — like he does with a guy named Rico, who is sitting on the sidewalk and working on a painting propped up by a bag with all his belongings.
This style of bluntly reminding someone they're homeless and then letting them talk works pretty well. The evidence is at Invisiblepeople.tv.
The video, on the front page of the site, is one of hundreds of video profiles shot throughout California, and more recently, the country. It's a profile of Brian, a bearded 54-year-old with tired blue eyes who says he's been homeless since he was 15 years old.
"I have no business being homeless, but I'm trying to find my way in life," Brian says. "And I was just recently been told — last year — that I have HIV, and I'm scared to death. I've got a woman I love dearly. I don't know what to do. I'm like a scared rabbit running for its hole."
"The content that Mark produces is very compelling because it's so raw," says social media expert Chris Pirillo. "It's so real."
Pirillo, who organizes the annual blogger conference Gnomedex, says Horvath's ability to draw attention to his site through social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook has turned Invisible People into an overnight success.
"It's insanely difficult to watch," says Pirillo. "It's uncomfortable. Because if you take a step back, and you think, 'Wow, this is like, this person who otherwise you might walk by, and now you're hearing their story.'"
For Horvath, It's Personal
Horvath's style is simple and effective: Let people talk. But once the camera's off, Horvath turns back into that fast-talking, hustling Hollywood producer. Every story he tells comes back to promoting his work and railing against society for accepting homelessness.
It's personal for Horvath. Fifteen years ago, he was homeless. He had been fired from a six-figure salary job at a television syndication distribution company. He dabbled in drug dealing and credit card fraud, but neither venture paid very well. He found help, and God, at a faith-based shelter. He cleaned up, moved to the Midwest, and worked for a televangelist.
But two years ago, he lost another job and, with it, all his money. He foreclosed on his home in Missouri and ended up back in Hollywood, barely making it.
"So when I applied for food stamps, I thought I was crashing back to homelessness," Horvath says. "The first time I was on drugs, and I did a lot of dumb things. But this time I was doing everything right, and I was still headed in that direction."
His predicament inspired him to create Invisiblepeople.tv. On the face of it, the Web site doesn't seem to be set up to collect money. It's simply video story after video story of the homeless. You have to click on a series of tabs to even find where you can donate.
But this might be a stroke of fund-raising genius. The material is so powerful that after a few videos, many people find themselves scrambling to find the page where they can donate. That's exactly what happened last spring when Horvath was visiting the homeless living in the tent cities outside Sacramento, Calif. He started using Twitter to document the journey.
"That was the first real impact I saw with social media," Horvath says. "Because people were going: 'Where you going? What are you doing? We want to help you. We want to follow you. How can we support you?' When I got back to Los Angeles, my rent was paid for."
But it didn't stop there. As more bloggers shared Horvath's videos, and as he aggregated more Twitter followers, big corporations took notice. Ford Motor Company lent Horvath a vehicle to drive across the county last summer to profile the homeless in middle America. Hanes gave him socks to give away to his subjects. And more people simply surfing the Web are donating money.
Horvath insists all the money raised goes right back into the Web site. Chris Brogan is the author of Trust Agents, a New York Times bestseller about social media. He says Invisiblepeople.tv marks a new way of supporting a social cause — not through some big non-profit, but directly through one person doing one good thing.
Courtesty of Invisiblepeople.tv
Fifty-four-year-old Brian has been homeless since he was 15. He is interviewed on Invisiblepeople.tv.
Fifty-four-year-old Brian has been homeless since he was 15. He is interviewed on Invisiblepeople.tv. Courtesty of Invisiblepeople.tv
"What he's got there," Brogan says, "is he's got a bunch of people who have really said 'I'm interested in this. I'm going to stick around. I want to make this matter.'"
And the support seems to be working. Horvath is now gearing up to head to Alaska to interview thousands of homeless people in Anchorage. Hertz, the car rental company, is sponsoring the trip.