Bringing Focus to Homelessness with Social Media

A Facebook photo project presents a sharp picture of homelessness in Seattle

As the residents of the West Seattle Nickelsville encampment pack up their sleeping bags and tents this month, homelessness in Seattle gets a rare close-up. Zooming in is exactly what architect Rex Hohlbein has been trying to do for the past two-and-a-half years with his Facebook group “Homeless in Seattle,” by which he hopes to bring the more than 6,000 fellow citizens into focus. He started the project after typing “Homelessness” into Google and seeing only negative portrayals; the opposite of his experience with the many intelligent and creative homeless people he has known. Hohlbein posts his striking black and white photographs, stories and calls for needed items—everything from sleeping bags and guitars to money for hotel rooms. “Anytime I put something up it immediately gets taken care of,” he says. His Fremont studio has turned into a de facto community center, where a daily stream of homeless people and those looking to make a difference come together. This summer, he submitted a proposal to become a nonprofit and launched the “Just Say Hello” campaign, window stickers encouraging people to pay the homeless the simplest of courtesies. “It’s still all about the images,” Hohlbein says. “Something beautiful can really say so much more than words.”

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