Selfies With People Who Are Homeless… Really?

By | Feb 18, 2014

SONY DSCHow many times will this country disrespect its most vulnerable, hurting people?

Those who are homeless have endured people screaming at them from their luxury cars: “Get a job, you bum!” Other people living on the streets have been set on fire or beaten with baseball bats. They have been pushed out of public parks and given tickets by police because there were no public restrooms in the area.

And now this.

Young people are taking “selfies,” those ubiquitous smart phone self-portraits, with people who are suffering from homelessness. A middle-class, smiling face peers into the camera at arm’s length, while a person in need is sprawled on the sidewalk with a confused look.

Some of these pictures even show a group of youth laughing at people who are homeless.


Some people were upset that President Obama posed in a selfie at Nelson Mandela’s funeral. They thought his actions were insensitive. But I don’t hear much outcry against young people taking selfies with people experiencing homelessness.

Is this what social media has become? A tool to degrade hurting, impoverished people? Take a picture of yourself making fun of someone sleeping on the streets, then post it on Twitter or Facebook. Such fun! So cool! Hilarious!

Now that’s what I call a sick viral media campaign.

To encourage people, especially youth, to believe that disrespecting those who are hurting is a cool activity just creates a foundation of insensitivity. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised when teenage boys transition from holding smart phones to holding baseball bats.

Can a selfie be considered a weapon?

Those of us on the front lines of America’s fight against homelessness struggle to advocate for more funding to house people, change inhumane policies that criminalize homelessness, and keep our organizations’ doors open.

We try to humanize the issue of homelessness by sharing people’s stories, like the teacher who lost her job or the small business owner who became critically ill with no insurance.

Sometimes our efforts to battle homelessness feel like an uphill struggle, especially when society thinks self-portraits next to suffering people are part of a fun, adventurous game.

Can we change this country’s perspective on poverty and homelessness?

What if we were to create a positive viral media campaign of housed people taking selfies of themselves helping a formerly homeless person move into a new apartment? Or a selfie of themselves helping someone find a job? How about positive selfies memorializing acts of charity?

Then maybe we could make selfies selfless.


  1. lindsey.
    Posted Feb 19, 2014 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    id like to start by eliminating the term homeless to describe human beings who live outdoors… it dehumanizes …i lived outside for over 20 years and now thanks to mhsa housing or whatever its called live in a managed apt complex …. those twenty plus years i always hated the term homeless because everyone that uses it uses it in a derogatory sense. those homeless again… that homeless guy …. the homeless… i was never (homeless) i was always Lindsey….

  2. lindsey
    Posted Feb 19, 2014 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    i think its the term at the end of the word home…. the term less that makes it ok to degrade …. less than human… homeless, less than, humanless. change that term…… homeless is derogatory …..

  3. Steve Fiechter
    Posted Feb 19, 2014 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

    Who built the wall that allows people to stand above suffering and feel no compassion? And who wants to work to tear it down?

  4. Maritsa
    Posted Feb 20, 2014 at 5:20 am | Permalink

    I'm sure some don't notice what they are doing.

  5. CIW
    Posted Jun 11, 2014 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    That is appalling! Homelessness is a huge issue that's not taken very seriously. Many people are far removed from that reality. Perhaps if we could get them to see homelessness from a different perspective, we could change the misconceptions and break down that wall.