April 22, 2013

The Power of Place: The @home Campaign

I met Mark Horvath, winner of the 2013 NTC Rob Stuart Memorial Award, at NTC in 2010. I remember being struck by his passion and his innovation in using social media to inspire tens of thousands of people to join the movement to fight homelessness in America.

Mark Horvath

Mark Horvath

Mark’s work — crisscrossing the country to tell the stories of homeless men and women — relies on mobile technology. Whether he’s under a bridge in New Mexico or speaking with residents in a tent city in Michigan, Mark is using his smartphone to check in, to tweet a person’s story, or to post a raw video on his website.

Mobile technology also has tremendous potential for supporting homeless individuals — it can help caseworkers digitize information, let commuters pay for a street paper using PayPal, or can give a homeless person a voicemail account where friends, family, and service providers can reach them.

Mark has long been an advocate for using technology to help homeless men and women stay connected, whether it’s something as simple as calling a friend, to high-tech, sometimes provocative, experiments like the SXSW homeless hotspot project. Mark’s mantra? “You might think this is too controversial … then I challenge you to think of something better!”

@home campaign

@home campaign

Mark’s innovative mission to shine a light on homelessness using digital media has inspired the @home campaign, a co-production between Kindling Group, See3 Communications, and FuturePerfect Lab. Just like Mark, we’re using mobile technology to bring the issue of homelessness to a new audience, and to recruit new advocates.

The @home campaign started out as a documentary about Mark’s work, but we quickly realized that we wanted to take the concept of telling stories one step further — into interaction, and exploration. And that’s why we added a second pillar to @home: a geo-located smartphone “game for change” that you can play in your own neighborhood.

Screenshot of @home game for change prototype

Screenshot of @home game for change prototype

We just came back from the POV Hackathon, where we developed a prototype for the @home game. I walked the streets of Brooklyn with game designer Heidi Boisvert, developers from Alchemy50, and collaborated with organizations like 100k Homes and the National Coalition for the Homeless, to develop a game experience that not only teaches the player about the challenges homelessness poses, but also supports homeless individuals in your community.

As we tested out the prototype, we followed the smartphone map from the Brooklyn Bridge to the local shelter, watching stories from homeless individuals and taking virtual actions to help them into housing. And, when we answered a question right or solved a puzzle, we actually unlocked items that make up a home “move-in kit” — like pillows, sheets, and towels. These items make a house into a home for a newly housed individual — and the game will facilitate players’ (and corporate sponsors’) donations to house homeless individuals in real-life.

This is a model that’s really never been tried before — but @home is just another way to use the cutting-edge mobile technology at our fingertips for good. It gives people the chance to hear directly from homeless men and women about their experiences, and illustrates an important belief that we share with Mark: that we can solve homelessness in our lifetimes, if each one of us steps up to make a difference.

Learn more, and pass on the @home campaign to five of your closest friends, to help grow the movement to end homelessness online, and on the ground.

And join me in not only congratulating Mark Horvath on his Rob Stuart Memorial Award, but also in celebrating and spreading the information about his work.

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Danny Alpert
Danny Alpert, Executive Producer, is a producer, director and editor whose films have been nominated for Academy and national Emmy Awards, and have aired on PBS, HBO, A&E and at festivals around the world. In addition to making full-length broadcast documentaries, Alpert is an expert in media messaging for nonprofits and repurposing video assets for internet distribution.