Homeless Advocate Goes High Tech Eric Sheptock is a homeless advocate in Washington, D.C. Though he's homeless himself, he keeps a blog, a Facebook page and a Twitter account — platforms to help educate the public about what he and many others like him are up against.
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Homeless Advocate Goes High Tech

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Homeless Advocate Goes High Tech

Homeless Advocate Goes High Tech

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Melissa Block.

The nation's homeless population appears to be on the rise, although those numbers are hard to count. One homeless man is trying to educate people about homeless issues with a blog, a Facebook page and a Twitter account.

As NPR's Pam Fessler reports, he wants people to know what the homeless are up against.

PAM FESSLER: Eric Sheptock is 40 years old. He's been homeless on and off for the last 15 years. He's clean-cut and trim - from so much walking, he says. And with the possible exception of some bad teeth, you wouldn't know that he's homeless. Today, Sheptock is in D.C.'s main public library, logging on to a computer.

Mr. ERIC SHEPTOCK: Now, you see - see 100 messages out of almost 2,500 of them.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FESSLER: You have 2,500 unread messages?


FESSLER: There are just too many to read, he says. Even homeless people get spam.

Mr. SHEPTOCK: Like the satellite TV thing. I don't even have a TV.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of a ring tone)

Mr. SHEPTOCK: My cell phone.

FESSLER: But he does have a cell phone. You have to these days to keep in touch. In fact, Sheptock just got a part-time job as a janitor to help pay for the phone. He also communicates through his blog, hosted by a nonprofit group. He recently wrote about his concern that the homeless shelter he now lives in is in danger of closing.

Mr. SHEPTOCK: My next blog is going to be about the challenges that homeless people have when it comes to employment because oftentimes - that they can't get money to ride the bus to the job, and they can't get lunch money. And so, for your first week or two, you have a lot of difficulty, you know, maintaining that job.

FESSLER: He's also written about how hard it is to get work in the first place. You might have to carry all your belongings to an interview, turning off a potential employer. Or you might have to choose between work and food because the soup kitchen closes before the workday ends.

Mr. SHEPTOCK: Right now, I'm headed up to the Pete's House.

FESSLER: That's where Sheptock has been given some temporary office space. He became a homeless activist when one of the biggest shelters here was shut down last year. He's now involved in a lawsuit against the city.

Mr. SHEPTOCK: We have a federal claim going on right now. And we're trying to gather plaintiffs and to galvanize the homeless around this issue.

FESSLER: But some activists in the city think he's on the wrong track, that the city's plan to move the chronically homeless out of shelters and into permanent housing is actually working.

But Sheptock is undeterred. And besides, he has other things to talk about, like stereotypes. He says most people can't tell who is and isn't homeless, and he points to a young man nearby, talking to a woman.

Mr. SHEPTOCK: You can see the guy ahead of me in the red shirt? He's homeless.

FESSLER: Sheptock knows him from the shelter. He says many homeless people have mental and substance abuse problems and look the part, but many don't. Some have jobs. And there are more and more families.

Mr. SHEPTOCK: I think it's (unintelligible) or something like that.

Unidentified Woman: Farina(ph).

Mr. SHEPTOCK: Farina? I've never heard of Farina.

FESSLER: Most days, Sheptock eats breakfast at Thrive D.C., a local nonprofit. The city's homeless population is reflected at his table. One woman talks in a steady stream to no one in particular, as she scribbles on paper. Another woman, elegant in a flowered dress and heart-shaped earrings, is Angel-Lee Evans(ph). She became homeless for the first time in February after losing her job. She hopes to be back on her feet soon, and says Sheptock's an inspiration.

Ms. ANGEL-LEE EVANS: He is just incredible. He works so hard, and we all just like and respect him so much because he really does care.

FESSLER: But it's been a long, tough road to get to this point.

Mr. SHEPTOCK: I was 8 months old, my parents actually tried to kill me. They beat my head open and left me to die in a motel room. I got a big scar back here on the back of my head to prove it.

FESSLER: Sheptock lifts his baseball cap. And sure enough, there's a long, thin scar. He was eventually adopted by a family in New Jersey. He says he worked for six years after high school but quit in a huff, a youthful indiscretion, he calls it. That was the start of his downward spiral; years wandering up and down the East Coast, taking odd jobs. He also began to use crack, and spent time in jail.

Sheptock says he's clean now, but his record makes it hard to get work - although he's not even sure he'd take a full-time job if he got one. He's so busy.

(Soundbite of song, "We Have Come Into His House")

Mr. SHEPTOCK: (Singing) We have come into this house and gathered in his name to worship him...

FESSLER: Every Sunday, Sheptock and several other homeless people sing in the choir at the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany, which ministers to D.C.'s downtown poor. Rector Randolph Charles says Sheptock is an active parishioner.

Reverend RANDOLPH CHARLES (Rector, Episcopal Church of the Epiphany): Talk about authenticity. Talk about speaking with authority. For someone homeless to advocate for the needs of the homeless, that is so important. And actually, seldom does that happen.

FESSLER: He says Sheptock has clearly found his mission in life on an issue that never seems to go away.

Mr. SHEPTOCK: Everyone join me, lift up holy hands.

(Soundbite of song, "We Have Come Into His House")

(Singing) Let us lift up holy hands and magnify his name and worship him...

FESSLER: Pam Fessler, NPR News, Washington.

BLOCK: And you can see photos of Eric Sheptock and find links to his blog and Twitter accounts at npr.org.

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