12 hours ago by Kate Freeman
Alone and homeless on the streets of Chicago, AnnMarie Walsh found comfort in Twitter.
“It feels so good to know there is someone out there,” she said. “I could Tweet and there was always someone there listening.”
Walsh uses the Twitter handle @PadsChicago. The 41-year-old tweets to her more than 4,800 followers about what it was like to be homeless and also advocates for homeless people. When she was homeless, Walsh would tweet from her cell phone or use computers at her local library.
She has slowly amassed more followers as her story of documenting her homelessness on Twitter has gained traction with the media.
She joined Twitter more than two years ago. Initially, she said, Twitter appealed to her because she thought it could help her deal with mental health issues by making her more comfortable talking to people, at least in a digital sense.
“It has really helped me come out and be better functioning in social settings,” she said. “I used it to get my feelings out.”
The response she received from her Twitter followers made her feel more comfortable sharing her story.
Using Twitter “made me realize how many good people are out there,” she said.
Tweets came pouring in from people who wanted to help her. She received two free laptops from people she met through Twitter. People offered to pay her cell phone bill and others sent her bus passes. A documentary filmmaker also reached out to her via Twitter and asked her to be part of his project documenting homelessness. Through that filmmaker, she was invited to speak at Twitter’s 140 Characters Conference, being held in Los Angeles in 2009.
Walsh would also attend Tweetup events in Chicago. At one such Tweetup, she met a case worker who helped her find temporary housing.
“I’m still in a homeless frame of mind because I don’t have any income,” she said. “I would certainly love a job where I can help people in some way.” Walsh says she would particularly love a job working in social media.
Walsh says she hopes her newfound Twitter fame will give her a platform to raise awareness of the homeless and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which Walsh said she has.
Walsh isn’t the first homeless person to find themselves in the social media spotlight. Ted Williams gainedmomentary fame after a video of him using his “golden voice” went viral on YouTube in January of last year. The recovering drug addict enjoyed fame for a short while and a very public reunion with his daughter before he relapsed. When he left rehab, the Cleaveland Cavaliers offered him a job and a house.
Another homeless man in New York was given a prepaid cell phone and set-up with a Twitter account by an organization that helps the homeless connect through social media. @Putodanny was able to get in touch with his daughter, who he hadn’t seen in 11 years, over Twitter.