Filming Homeless People Without Their Consent Is Creepy

Filming homeless people without their consent

One of the less widely understood struggles of homelessness is living a life with little to no privacy. Not having a suitable and safe space to call home results in much of your life being lived more or less in the public eye. All of your life’s ups and downs- your best days and your worst, may play out on a stage in front of others who are watching, judging, and sometimes filming.

On top of all the stress of being homeless and living in poverty in a country that doesn’t care whether you live or die, you also have to worry about coming face to face with footage of yourself going viral on TikTok while you’re just trying to have a mindless scroll and forget your problems for a moment. All because some creep with a drone couldn’t come up with content of his own.

First of All, It’s Creepy

Watching other people in their homes or backyards is creepy. Filming them without their knowledge or consent and sharing it with the world takes it to another level.

Just because houseless people’s homes don’t look like you might expect doesn’t make either of these things any more ok. An unsheltered person’s tent, car, or other improvised structure is their home. In it, they have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Finding an angle where you can see in and film what’s going on inside is no different than peeking in someone’s windows. It’s very creepy.

Even in public places, it’s not exactly empathetic to film someone for others to laugh at without their knowledge or consent. Whether they’re just going about their daily business doing something you find out of the ordinary, or they’re having a reaction to the trauma they’ve endured, or you just think that the way they look is comical, none of these are good enough reasons to take a short snippet of someone’s life out of context and repackage it as content for your struggling YouTube channel.

Instead of jumping to conclusions, try curiosity. What circumstances in a person’s life could have led them to the position you’re currently observing them in? What systemic failures are displayed in the fellow human you see before you now? Once you fill in the missing context, ask yourself if the situation is as amusing as you first thought.

If you can be polite, you may even initiate a conversation. You may be shocked to discover you’re talking to another fully formed person like yourself rather than the stereotypical “homeless person” living rent-free in imaginations everywhere.

They may be open to a conversation with you. Or they may be suspicious and have already noticed you filming and gotten understandably pissed off about it. All of these and more are human reactions that let you know you’re dealing with a complete person with access to the entire range of thoughts and emotions that you have.

Secondly, It’s Dangerous

In addition to the basic human decency reasons you shouldn’t be filming people without their consent, there are also specific situations when it can be even more harmful than average. 

For example, many people and families fleeing domestic abuse may end up homeless or unsheltered as they transition. In a situation like this, it is of the utmost importance for the abuser not to know the location of the victims. Filming and posting without consent can provide that information and endanger people’s lives.

Whether hiding from an abusive ex-partner, a stalker or just trying to avoid the notice of anyone cruising for an easy target, the best option for homeless people is to stay out of sight to keep themselves reasonably safe. If you are filming and sharing footage of them without their consent, you may inadvertently put them in danger. This is especially true if they don’t know their location has been compromised until it’s too late. 

Thirdly, You’re Telling On Yourself

As with many issues concerning housed people’s bad behavior toward unhoused people, the root cause is dehumanization and lack of empathy. 

When you film and share “funny clips” of a person doing something you don’t have the context to understand, you’re not treating your subject as a fully human person with feelings or connections.

You never considered that the people who see your video could recognize that person as their friend, child, employee, or even a victim that got away. You never stop to ask how those relationships could be affected by the video they’re about to see. If you were honest, you’d admit you never considered the person you were filming had relationships like that at all.

You’re communicating this with your entire audience when you post videos of homeless people filmed without their knowledge and consent.

You’ve fallen for the lie that “homeless” means a separate type of people that are all the same- homogenously exemplifying every negative stereotype that’s ever been crafted about them.

You could easily dispel the lie by talking to one or two homeless people. Or, listen to their comments on the content you’ve posted online. That’s right – homeless people have social media, too. And yes, that means there’s a good chance they’ll see what you posted. 

Sure, some of your audience might be laboring under the same delusion you are. But many of us are cringing at how easily you’ve swallowed the propaganda and become a cog in the machine. Save yourself the embarrassment and delete that draft.

Kayla Robbins

Kayla Robbins


Kayla Robbins is a freelance writer who works with big-hearted brands and businesses. When she's not working, she enjoys knitting socks, rolling d20s, and binging episodes of The Great British Bake Off.

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