Help Celebrate My Sober Birthday on Aug 24th by Donating $24 to End Homelessness

August 24th, 1995 was my last day homeless. It was also my last day drinking and using. I was one of the worst of the worst. I was severely addicted to drugs, homeless and hopeless. If you saw me back on the streets when I was homeless, you would have walked over to the other side. I was really bad.

It’s a miracle that I am even talking to you today. It’s a huge miracle that on August 24th of this year I will celebrate 22 years of sobriety.

Another miracle is the nonprofit I founded. Invisible People has reached over 1.5 billion people in the last five years, and thanks to people just like you, we reach millions of people every month, educating them about homelessness and solutions to end it.

Why that’s so important is we are never going to end homelessness unless we have the support of the general public. Yet most people will not support homeless services or support ending homelessness because they believe the homeless person deserves it. That it’s their fault. That the homeless person causes their own homelessness. Most people blame homelessness on the person instead of on the lack of affordable housing, a lack of a living wage, childhood trauma or all the many reasons that are actually out of a person’s control that can cause homelessness.

We need to teach the general public the real truths about homelessness because they are reacting out of fear. Most people, outside of the homeless services sector, hate homeless people. We need to change that.

Invisible People is the only education-based nonprofit working to end homelessness on a national level, and it’s all thanks to you. Without your support, our important work stops.

This year I’m asking everybody to help celebrate my sober birthday, by visiting our Patreon campaign here and pledging $2 a month to support Invisible People’s important work. $2 a month or $24 a year, my sober birthday is on the 24th, August 24th, 24th of 24.

Over the years, Invisible People has proven that we can do a lot with a little. Imagine the impact if we had the adequate support to reach our potential.

If you can pledge more than $2 a month, please, we need your help. If you like to just make a one-time donation, click here or on the donation link in the website menu. The last couple of years, I’ve done traditional fund raising campaigns on my sober birthday, this year, I’m hoping that we can reach a number of our goals on Patreon.

Patreon has given me new hope that some day, very soon, I’ll be able to dedicate 100% of my time and energy and effort to Invisible People and ending homelessness. With your help, that can happen. Please visit our Patreon campaign and pledge $2 a month, $24 a year to help celebrate my sober birthday on August 24th. Thank you so very much for helping me celebrate 22 years of sobriety in supporting Invisible People’s important work.

Amber posts two videos in response to YouTube comments

Three months ago I posted a video of a young homeless woman on Hollywood Blvd. Amber is putting herself through Los Angeles City College. It’s a powerful story of an amazing woman doing what she can to make her life better against all the odds. Click here to watch the original video.

Everyone knows YouTube is filled with trolls that have nothing better to do than to leave nasty comments. It doesn’t matter the video content; some people will always leave negative comments. Most nonprofits are scared of any controversy, but I see opportunity. Interactive comments allow for the best moments of learning. People think this stuff so let’s get the wrong beliefs out in the open and start conversations. Of course, there are people who will never change their mind about homelessness, so it’s best not to waste any time with them. Overall, Invisible People’s YouTube channel starts amazing conversations teaching people about homelessness.

I always tell people just ignore the comments. It’s not just YouTube. Anytime there is a media hit on the topic of homelessness the comments sections get filled with negativity. It’s a good snapshot into what the general public really think about homelessness but it’s often best to ignore the comments and not read them, and if you do read them, do not give them any emotional energy! But not Amber – she decided to record a video to address the comments directly!

Last night I noticed someone responding back to YouTube comments as Amber. I clicked through to her channel, and there she was responding to YouTube comments with a video. Amber is amazing! She displayed so much maturity telling YouTubers to stop judging others. At one point in the video, she tells people that instead of judging they should go hang out with homeless people! WOW! Here is the first of two videos she posted last night. This first video is to the people posting negative comments.

Then, shortly after, Amber posted a second video to the people leaving nice comments and encouraging her. She tells the YouTubers that leaving nice comments that they are beautiful people. This time Amber is emotional and crying with tears of gratitude. When I played the video last night, I got emotional, and just now I had to fight back the tears after watching it again!

Amber is a fighter. Homelessness is not going to stop her from having an amazing life. The challenges with her teeth are not going to stop her. And most certainly negative comments on YouTube are nothing anymore after she had the courage to address them directly on video.

When I first met Amber, she impressed me.  Today, after watching her video response showing her maturity and courage, I am blown away!

Amber is an amazing young woman!

If you are a dentist or know a dentist in the Los Angeles area that has a heart and may be willing to help Amber with her teeth, please contact me. Maybe, just maybe, we can all rally to help this young woman get a better smile!

Amber posts two videos in response to YouTube comments Click To Tweet

Giving Money to Homeless People Is Okay

If you feel the urge to give money and you feel safe, then it’s perfectly fine.

If you feel the urge to give money and you feel safe, then it’s perfectly fine.

On one of my road trips around the country, I was walking downtown in Salt Lake City handing out socks to people experiencing homelessness. I happened to run across a young man with a backpack who had a look of hopelessness in his eyes. I asked him about homelessness and he responded that not only was it his 18th birthday, but that it was his first day homeless. Without even thinking about it, I opened my wallet and handed the young man all the money I had on me — two $20 bills.

Contrary to popular belief, giving money to homeless people is okay.

Yes, the official stance of the homeless services sector is: don’t give money to panhandlers. Instead, they recommend money be given to them to help end homelessness. While I agree everyone should support community services working to end homelessness, the answer is not so black and white.

The truth is giving money to homeless people depends on the circumstances. If you feel the urge to give money and you feel safe, then it’s perfectly fine.

Give Without Worry

Pope Francis recently said it’s okay to give homeless people money and we should not worry about doing so. The Pope also said “the way of giving is as important as the gift. You should not simply drop a bill into a cup and walk away. You must stop, look the person in the eyes, and touch his or her hands.”

Oftentimes, we don’t take the time to listen and learn what a person may truly need. This is frequently the case even when a person is plainly stating their needs.

A homeless friend once shared a story about when he needed a toothbrush. He stood in front of a grocery store displaying a sign asking for money to buy the toothbrush. It wasn’t long before people started to give him food. He gratefully accepted multiple bags of fast food meals as he tried to collect money to buy a toothbrush. He set the bags next to him. Although it was clear he had already been given food, people continued to give him more. He never was able to purchase the toothbrush he needed.

In this situation, my homeless friend was clearly communicating his need. But the givers either were not listening or chose not to because they have been told not to give money to panhandlers. The thing is, with food stamps a person cannot buy toilet paper, toothpaste, a toothbrush and other hygienic needs. It takes money.

Stop Blaming the Individual

People experiencing homelessness are human beings. We should treat them with respect. But too often we view the homeless person asking for money as a bum or con artist. We blame homelessness on the person when their situation could be caused by a variety of reasons: lack of affordable housing, lack of a living wage, or some kind of trauma.

“Panhandlers use money to purchase drugs or alcohol.” This is also a common belief stopping people from giving money to panhandlers. Let’s think about that: if you’re going to the bathroom behind a dumpster in a McDonald’s parking lot, life sucks. You might as well have a beer!

Please know I have 21 years sober and I am not advocating for alcohol abuse in any way. I am just trying to show a little perspective. It’s hard to be homeless. Alcohol and drugs offer an escape from the pain.

When I lived on the streets of Los Angeles, I survived by panhandling. At times, I did use the money for drugs, but I had a severe drug addiction. I needed drugs like I needed air or I would get dope sick. If I got dope sick, I would be vulnerable. If I was vulnerable sleeping in a park, I could die. In a way, the people who gave me money helped to save my life!

We often look the other way when people we know abuse drugs: The soccer mom who hits the bottle to get through the day; your brother-in-law who drinks a case of beer on the weekend; the lawyer who smokes the pipe filled with crack; and the postal worker popping a few pills to help make their rounds. But when it’s a person experiencing homelessness, we look down upon them.

Homeless People Need Money for Basic Needs

The real truth is not every homeless person abuses drugs and alcohol.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimates 38% of homeless people are dependent on alcohol and 26% abuse other drugs. More often than not, a person experiencing homelessness will use money to meet their basic needs like food and shelter.

A study on panhandling conducted in San Francisco’s Union Square district reported that 94% of the money was used to purchase food. The survey also found 60% of panhandlers made $25 a day or less, breaking the myth that beggars make large amounts of money panhandling.

Many people I meet raise money to get a room for the night, especially in cold weather. Numerous shelters now charge money for a bed every night. Although I don’t agree with this, I understand as homeless services are receiving less support. By charging, they make a few bucks to provide services. However, the people they are charging don’t have an income; this forces them to panhandle to get inside.

Tips for Interacting with a Panhandler

Here are a few tips to consider when interacting with a person experiencing homelessness:

  • Make eye contact. It’s hard to be homeless and being ignored can be painful. Make eye contact and greet the person with a hello or good morning.
  • If you feel like giving money than give. It’s okay. Like Pope Francis said “it’s okay to give homeless people money and we should not worry about doing so.”
  • Keep in mind your safety must come first. Do not open your purse or take out your wallet if you feel it may be dangerous.
  • If you don’t feel like giving money, simply say “sorry.” It’s never a good practice to lie and say you don’t have anything.
  • If you’re not the type to give money than an alternative is to carry a few pairs of socks to hand out. I walk around with Hanes socks in my backpack. When someone asks me for money, I normally hand each person two pairs of new socks. It’s a great way to start a conversation and get to know the individual. Carry socks in your purse, briefcase or glovebox. Other items to give include gift cards or bus tokens, but I find socks are needed and easy to carry.
  • There are occasions when a homeless person is overly aggressive, has severe mental health issues or is intoxicated. If you don’t feel safe, don’t engage with the person. However, remember to have compassion as to why they may act that way.
  • Last but far from least is to simply listen. Homelessness is horrible, and people experiencing homelessness are often in crisis. They may have a simple need that you can help with. You just have to start a conversation and listen.

C3 Is Proof LA County Can End Homelessness

c3 team on skid row

Imagine you’re homeless. You live in a tent in a park. You don’t have any real income or transportation. You hear that a nonprofit has services that may help you get out of homelessness, or maybe an outreach worker told you about a housing opportunity.

You then panhandle to get on a bus to access badly-needed services. You arrive early to avoid any lines. The person at the front desk gives you a bunch of paperwork to fill out.

It’s the same paperwork you filled out the last time you tried to get help with a different agency. And the time before that. You wait several hours until your name is called. A case manager outlines the intake process with you. If you’re lucky, you’ll be placed on a waiting list. If you’re really lucky, they’ll give you bus tokens so you can get back to your tent. But chances are, you’ll have to panhandle to get back to where you feel safe to sleep.

All this to just do it again the next day, and the next, and the next. Panhandle for bus fare. Fill out the same forms. Wait for hours in a lobby to be called in to have an intake done. Placed on a waiting list — and that’s only if you’re lucky.

The homeless services system does not make it easy for someone to get out of homelessness. We place an extreme amount of the burden of acquiring support on a person who has limited resources and is fighting to survive.

We Need Better Support SolutionsVote Yes on Measure H

I have traveled to different cities and interviewed hundreds of people experiencing homelessness. The one constant in every situation is the insane amount of times a homeless person has tried to access services for help, yet didn’t get the support needed. This creates Learned Helplessness.

Learned Helplessness is a condition in which a person suffers from a sense of powerlessness arising from a traumatic event or persistent failure to succeed. It is thought to be one of the underlying causes of depression.

homeless woman in LA

Jossalyn has lived on the streets of Los Angeles for 15 years!

You may remember Jossalyn. She has been on the streets of Los Angeles for 15 years. I have wanted nothing more than to help her get into housing.

I researched and found all the right places to go. I shared the referral information with her. However, Jossalyn has a mental illness and suffers from anxiety. Besides not having money or transportation, she cannot sit in an office waiting to be seen.

After a long conversation with her, I realized the only way for her to get help is if someone came to her and helped her navigate through the bureaucracy.

It is unrealistic to support an approach requiring a person with no income, no transportation and potential mental illness or drug addiction to travel to service agency locations to receive help. But that’s been the model in homeless services for a long time. Set aside the fact that many agencies in a Continuum of Care (CoC) help with specific needs; so a client has to travel to different locations to obtain assistance with both housing and healthcare, for example.

Sometimes agencies will have an outreach team that can transport clients between services. However, this is not cost-effective as you have staff from one agency waiting with a client to be seen by another agency.

An Effective Solution Is Producing Results — Vote Yes on Measure H

In my last post, I believe we can end homelessness, I wrote about the disconnect that exists between homeless service agencies. I also addressed how the City of Los Angeles and LA County, along with many other stakeholders have made significant improvements in communication and collaboration to develop a community-wide solution to ending homelessness.

C3: City, County, Community program is a key example of how City of Los Angeles and LA County are finding creative ways to build systems and reduce barriers to save lives and taxpayer money. C3 is a multidisciplinary and multiagency program made up of a dedicated team of service providers from the County’s Department of Mental Health, Health Services, Substance Abuse Prevention & Control, as well as Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) and Americorps staff.

Instead of the unrealistic approach of having homeless people travel to services, C3 brings the services to the person in need. These teams include a nurse, a mental health clinician, and a substance abuse counselor. Because it is multiagency, barriers created by bureaucracy are greatly reduced. The homeless person gets the help they need right away and at an overall lower cost.

I recently joined the original C3 team on Skid Row. It is very exciting to see the model in action and experience the community collaboration. Learn more about how the C3 team effects change in this short interview with Sara Shortt, Director of the C3 Program on Skid Row.

Being able to deliver all services a homeless person may need rather than having them travel to different offices is invaluable. And it is producing results. In 2016, the C3 team on Skid Row was able to house 158 people and connected 326 more people to housing who will be getting indoors soon.

Measure H Will Help End Homelessness — Vote Yes on Measure H

The next step is implementing C3 teams throughout Los Angeles County. Measure H is the catalyst needed to achieve widespread results, ultimately saving lives and ending homelessness.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has placed Measure H on the March 7 ballot. Funded through a proposed ¼-cent County sales tax, Measure H would generate approximately $355 million annually to be used exclusively on these proven efforts that reduce and prevent homelessness.

If approved, Measure H will help an estimated 45,000 families and individuals move from homelessness to permanent housing within the first five years. It would also enable 30,000 more to avoid becoming homeless.

By voting YES on Measure H, you will help support an initiative that provides resources people with permanently disabling conditions need.

By voting YES, you will help ensure valuable resources are allocated sensibly.

By voting YES, you will help end the homelessness crisis that is certain to grow if changes are not made.

Help people get off the streets and save their lives. Vote YES on Measure Hon March 7.

Watch the C3 Team on Skid Row in action. This video includes a tour of Skid Row Sobering Center, another city and county collaboration aiming to end homelessness. In addition to helping patients get sober, restart their lives and find transitional housing, the sobering center provides appropriate care for inebriated individuals who would otherwise be brought to emergency care facilities.

I Believe Los Angeles Can End Homelessness

mark horvath homeless

Yup that’s me! A little over 21 years ago, I lived on the streets of Los Angeles homeless and helpless. I sold photos of my pet Iguana to tourists in front of the Chinese Theater to survive. Los Angeles Police Officers called me “Lizard Man”, and “The Lizard Man of Hollywood Blvd” was born.

Hard to imagine that prior to homelessness I had a great job in television syndication. But due to a severe drug problem, I ended up homeless.

I rebuilt my life, buying a three-bedroom house with a new car in the garage. I had a pool in the backyard and a cushy marketing job with success on the horizon. Then the economy crashed and I lost everything again except my sobriety.

In the fall of 2008, the only job I could find was a three-month temporary position working at the Glendale Winter Shelter. I was eventually hired on fulltime as an outreach case manager. During the winter months, my position shifted to family outreach case manager. For the next four years, I worked in homeless services helping those experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles.

 mark horvath and lannyMe as an outreach worker with Lanny, who we were able to get into housing. Click here to watch his story.

During that time, I began using social media to empower homeless people to share their own stories. To end homelessness, we need to listen to the experts. And the experts are people experiencing homelessness: living in a tent, under a bridge, in a car or at a weekly-rate hotel not fit for children.

My work quickly took off and I founded Invisible People, a digital storytelling platform exposing the realities of homelessness and solutions to end it. Invisible People is the only education-based nonprofit working on a national level to educate people about homelessness to affect policy change.

Over the last decade, I have traveled to more than 300 cities meeting thousands of people experiencing homelessness. I have worked with foreign, national and local governments along with homeless service providers around the world.

Breaking Through the Bureaucratic Wall

When I worked as an LA-based outreach case manager, the bureaucracy was maddening. There was always a struggle to get people to work together. I used to say the miracle wasn’t that a person got off the streets, but that the system actually worked. A lot of well-intentioned people were giving their all to end homelessness. However, there was little coordination between communities and service providers.

Prime example: Los Angeles County is divided up into eight Service Planning Areas (SPA). Simply put, a SPA is a specific geographic region within the county. Eight years ago, there was an attempt to get a single coordinated intake form for all homeless service providers to use within the eight SPAs. However, no one would agree or compromise, so it never went anywhere.

united way home for good
Christine Margiotta, VP at United Way of Greater Los Angeles speaking to SPAs about coordinated entry.

In 2013, I remember walking into United Way of Greater Los Angeles and seeing all eight SPAs working together to develop a coordinated entry process. To me, it was a miracle — you would have thought I saw the tooth fairy.

MEDIA: To read the post I wrote about that day click here.

A New Hope — We Can End Homelessness

I currently live in Syracuse, NY where I help take care of my mother. But my heart and passion to end homelessness will always be in Los Angeles. I visit as often as I can. Because I leave for extended periods of time, I return to the city I love with new eyes. While I see how homelessness has spread, I also see the positive changes being made to end it.

A lot of progress has been made since 2013. This past November, I was honored to attend the Annual Conrad N. Hilton Foundation Homelessness Convening. The guest list included many stakeholders working to end homelessness in Los Angeles.

During this event, I learned the city and county were working together and collaboration between nonprofits was being embraced. Homeless service organizations talked about the need for flex funding and peer support programs. The emphasis was on providing homeless people with adequate support so they not only survive, but thrive after being placed into housing. I was thrilled to see a new Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) actively listening to community nonprofits.


County Supervisor Kathryn Barger speaking at County of Los Angeles Homeless Initiative.

On Feb. 8, I attended the first annual Homeless Initiative Conference County of Los Angeles. I thought seeing all the SPAs in one room working together was astonishing in 2013. This event, with representatives from many of the 88 cities in Los Angeles County along with homeless service providers was truly a miracle. There was a spirit of collaboration I have never seen in any other community. Most importantly, Los Angeles County was actively listening to the municipal representatives and homeless service providers. It was truly a huge step in the right direction to end homelessness.

Working Together — Vote Yes to Measure H

There was never a united strategy. This is one of the main reasons homelessness has spread in Los Angeles County. We needed one coordinated plan involving all stakeholders working together to end homelessness. Now there is!

Barriers that used to work against getting people off the streets have been removed. The top-down momentum combined with key leaders listening to the people doing the work can end homelessness in Los Angeles County.

Now we need your help.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has placed Measure H on the March 7 ballot. Funded through a proposed ¼-cent County sales tax, Measure H would generate approximately $355 million annually to be used exclusively on proven efforts that reduce and prevent homelessness. These efforts include mental health, housing services, job counseling and substance abuse treatment.

If approved, Measure H will help an estimated 45,000 families and individuals move from homelessness to permanent housing within the first five years. It would also enable 30,000 more to avoid becoming homeless.

By voting YES to Measure H, you will help support an initiative that reduces and prevents homelessness.

I believe with all of my heart that Los Angeles County can and will end homelessness. Do people have emergencies? Yes. Do people sleep for days in between places? Of course. But the kind of homelessness most people are familiar with is the kind we can end. These instances can be prevented when our system provides the resources to care for people with permanently disabling conditions. Approving Measure H will provide the services to end AND prevent homelessness.

Help people get off the streets. Save their lives. Vote YES to Measure H on March 7.

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