Video project aims to reunite family members disconnected by homelessness
The non-profit organization was founded in December 2014 when Kevin Adler walked down the streets of San Francisco and asked people living on the streets whether they would like to record a holiday video message to their loved ones. He met a man named Jeffrey Gottshall, recorded his message and was able to connect him with his sister who had been looking for him for 12 years – all through the power of social media.
“We’re just part of a larger move by people to find greater purpose to using their smartphones for themselves and their social media and using it for social good,” Adler told Global News.
For Adler, who has a background in sociology and educational technology, Miracle Messages is a project that hits close to home.
“My uncle Mark had been on and off the street for 30 years,” he said. “He suffered from schizophrenia. I never saw him as a homeless man, just as my beloved uncle.”
After his uncle died, Adler wondered if there was anything he could do to help reconnect people living on the streets to their loved ones. He believes social support and creating a “social home” is a key factor in ending homelessness.
“One out of three Americans are a paycheque away from not being able to make their rent. So why don’t we have 100 million people living on the streets?” he said. “It’s because of friends, family, church networks and other social support that safeguards us from homelessness.”
Miracle Messages has a team of volunteers in chapters around the world – including three across Canada (Vancouver, Calgary and Ottawa) – that work with local non-profits to record the video messages. They post those videos on social media and their volunteer team of detectives assists in tracking down those family members to deliver the video.
Adler said 90 per cent of the time, the messages are well received, resulting in reunions that could be as simple as a phone call to as life changing as moving back in with their family.
In a recent reunion video, a man named Dave spoke to his brother for the first time in decades. Dave learned he had a sister who he didn’t even know he had. Miracle Messages was able to raise money to get Dave from San Francisco to Iowa to reconnect with him and his family.
“I had no clue I even had anybody like that,” Dave told his sister Dorothy.
“I’ve been looking for you for 20 years,” she responds.
“This work needs to be done delicately. You have to be sensitive about it,” said Adler, explaining that some people may be disconnected from their families because of abuse or trauma.
Adler says over 5,000 people around the world have contacted the organization with a desire to launch local chapters. He is hoping to expand the Miracle Messages team by raising funds to hire a few more full-time staffers to manage the growing demand for local chapters.
“Our goal is to reconnect as neighbours,” said Adler. “We’re not just helping homeless individuals, we’re helping society connect with their neighbours on the street for the first time.”Follow @jennynotjen
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