Website Content for Homeless People?

I saw this tweet from Mark Horvath of Invisible People and We Are Visible via Facebook yesterday:

Mark Horvath Tweet

I followed up on Facebook with Mark and he said he couldn’t come up with any good examples of agencies that serve the homeless who actually had good content directed at homeless people on their websites. He says most of those websites are donor-centric or all about the organization itself. If you know of an agency that serves homeless people with good content for that clientele on their website, please share in the comments!

I think this is a perfect example of just how fast the world of nonprofit communications is changing. Your old assumptions about who consumes what kind of content just don’t work anymore.

I suspect many people would say, “Well, homeless people don’t have computers.” Or they might concede, “Well, I guess they could go to the library and use a public computer.”

But look at what Mark says:  “Homeless people are not really thought of as consumers, which is sad! With tablets now getting affordable, a tablet + wifi gives great access.”  Forget the computer with wired Internet access. Heck, forget the mobile phone with the monthly data package. He’s talking about people who can get and stay connected online with a one-time technology purchase (or donated device) and free wifi. And remember, many homeless people (44%) do have jobs, and others get disability or other government support, and therefore can make some choices as consumers. A recent USC study found that homeless teens consider a smart phone as important as food.

I did a very quick search and found plenty of evidence that technology — including old laptops and cheap netbooks — is not uncommon among homeless people. (How Facebook and Twitter are helping the homeless and Low-cost cellphones, Internet access help keep North Coast homeless in touch.)

Now, of course, this is not all homeless people, and not even a majority. But in today’s fragmented media environment, it’s hard to say that any particular communications channel is a slam dunk for a majority of any particular group. It’s now a multi-channel, multi-screen world, which means you need to provide multiple options so individuals can pick the best ways to communicate with you, given their own particular preferences and circumstances.

If I were in charge of a website for an agency that served homeless people, right next to my big ol’ “Donate” button, I think I’d probably have a big ol’ “Homeless?” button that went to mobile-optimized pages and real-time social media content relevant to homeless people.

I think we’ve blown up this notion that homeless people don’t access the web. What other bad assumptions are nonprofits making about the people they serve that are negatively affecting their communications?




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  • Cynthia Foster

    Covenant House Vancouver ( has not just a lovely website, they have content that speaks directly to youth in need as well. And one more than that, they have testimonials and blog posts from youth who have been helped for CHV written to both donors and youth who may be in need of help.

  • Beth

    Street Sights in Providence RI:
    “forum for advocates, homeless and formerly homeless individuals, students, state officials, and the general public to share accurate and honest information about homelessness issues.” Much of their staff is or formerly was homeless. That may be a big key: asking homeless people for input on what content is meaningful to them or making them part of the staff.

  • Judy Anderson

    It’s so great to see you featuring work like this. Very inspiring. Thank you.

  • Leave it to Mark … always making me think. What I think is that if my organization served the homeless, my website would include rich content on how to effectively navigate the world as a homeless person, where to access resources, best practices sharing from within the homeless community, strategies for transitioning from homelessness to a better life, etc. I’d make my site the essential go-to resource for that community – rich content, social sharing, etc.
    Once you realize that there’s a segment of the homeless population that is as (or more) wired as anyone else, it really opens up the opportunities for service.

  • Ashlie Hutcherson

    Almost Home:

    On our home page we have a large banner that says “In Need of Help?” and gives our phone number. If the banner is clicked in the viewer is taken to a page that lists our shelters age requirements, directions for contacting our Intake Coordinator, and a list of other local agencies that may be able to help them. I think there is a lot more we could add to this page but I think it gives potential consumers the most important info. A large number of our clients actually find us by googling keys words.

  • Try this page from Homeless Link in the UK

  • Pingback: Dangerous Assumptions Nonprofits Make About Their Web Design - Nonprofit Hub()

  • fivekitten

    Let’s not forget that homeless people can go to the library and access the Internet for free.

  • Here isan example, from a nonprofit I love:

  • Charlene Reiss

    Urban Ministries of Durham (NC) has a great website with a tab that says, “I Need Help.”

  • Nobbobby

    i dont know why they dont write the content for homeless people. But i think we should do that.
    Browser 8.7