Friday, January 7, 2011

TED WILLIAMS and ERIC SHEPTOCK: The Same, But Different

You would have to be in a coma or living in a third-world country without the benefits of electricity in order not to know who TED WILLIAMS is. The homeless man from Ohio with the radio voice is all the rage these days. But he is one of several homeless people whose talents and worth are gaining them recognition these days. I just got through doing an interview with WUSA9 NEWS in which he and I were juxtaposed and compared. I must say that we are the same but different.

Over the past couple of days, friends and fellow-advocates have told me what I already knew -- that TED WILLIAMS is a homeless man who landed a good job, whereas I am a homeless advocate who helps many homeless people. The media is focused on what has been done for him and what I do for others. To that extent our stories differ, even though we both have experienced homelessness.

We both have become media phenoms. However, in my case the media attention has increased gradually over the course of four and a half years, while he became an overnight sensation. Furthermore, the media is fascinated by my use of social media to send messages to others wherein I educate them about the homeless issue, versus TED WILLIAMS having messages that are about him sent by others. His video got 3 million hits in a day or two. I can't make that claim. (I must admit that many messages about me are sent, though they are often in the form of newspaper articles.)

The news interview which I just did spun the story as us both being talented homeless people. No argument there. He is talented with a well-trained radio voice. I am known for my ability to do social networking. His talent has begun to make bookoo dollars for him. While I remain homeless, but with talent. I should also point out that he has not only landed a good-paying job. He's been offered a house and money has been collected to help him get it together. Evidently, the people of Ohio are much more generous than those in Washington, DC. (Actually, I'm not sure that all of the donations came from Ohio.) Maybe he just has more contacts that can afford to give than I do. At any rate, I'm happy for him.

There is one thing that many people seem to be saying about the TED WILLIAMS story. I've heard it from friends and family. I've read it in a blog (that wasn't mine). It is the idea that we shouldn't get too excited about one man finding a job, but should be focused on helping others who are in his former predicament. I can't help but realize that there wasn't all of this hoopla when he was a radio DJ before his fall from grace. But, as he rises from the ashes like the phoenix, he is praised. Let's hope that he does something to help those whom he knew during his homelessness. I hope that he'll take what is being done to help him and pay it forward. One of the biggest favors that he can do for his fellow-homeless is to chronicle his rise from the ashes so as to be able to tell others what worked for him. That information could be used to help other homeless people to rise above their circumstances.

This post would be incomplete without a recap of the media's coverage of homeless people as it pertains to talents and technology. That coverage has evolved over the past 2 years from utter surprise at a homeless person's ability to use technology into fascination with how a homeless person can look beyond their own problems to help others or can be socially connected. Now there is TED WILLIAMS with his radio voice.

On march 5th, 2009 Michelle Obama visited the homeless at Miriam's Kitchen. A homeless man with a camera phone took her picture as someone else took his. His photo is all over the web with people asking why it is that he can afford a ($50/month) phone but can't pay ($1,400/month in) rent. That photo has led to media coverage of how the homeless use technology and was the impetus for DC homeless advocates entering into conversation with the U.S. Dept. of Labor about creating a job-training program for the homeless. On march 22nd, 2009 the Washington Post did an on-line article about homeless people who use computers, do e-mail, have blogs and use the internet to do other business as well. it came out in print the following day. The next month Russian T.V. interviewed several homeless advocates and myself about our use of technology. The rest is history.

While the housed are amazed that the homeless can do things that the average housed person can do, I'm amazed at their amazement. Do they actually think that, as we walk out of our houses and apartments for the last time following a foreclosure or eviction, that our intellect evaporates out of us and hovers along the ceiling, only to fall on the next resident of that dwelling? I should hope not. Nonetheless, people's fixation on the abilities of the homeless is causing the issue of homelessness to get much-needed press. And we'll take that gladly. It has presented me with the opportunity to teach more people about the homeless issue. I've recently found myself explaining to people in Europe how it is that someone can be homeless in the capital of the richest nation on Earth. It has also led to me now having a new campaign to end homelessness called "OFF THE STREATS". So, for what it's worth to you, the media attention around homeless people isn't half bad. Let's continue to make the most of it.

Eric Jonathan Sheptock
Cell phone: (240) 305-5255
425 2nd St. NW
Washington, DC 20001-2003

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