A homeless suburban Chicago woman who tweeted her experiences was not only able to find support and housing through the social networking site, but has inspired other homeless people to share their stories through social media.
AnnMarie Walsh, 41, became homeless more than five years ago after losing her job and going through a divorce, the Daily Herald reports. She spent the next few years sleeping in an Arlington Heights, Ill. alley -- and using the internet at a suburban library to share her story.
As of Tuesday, Walsh had more than 4,300 Twitter followers, and has been chosen to speak at a conference about Twitter in Los Angeles. Perhaps her most important social media interaction, however, was with the executive director of Deborah's Place. The Chicago organization helped place Walsh in an apartment in April of 2011.
"The experience of homelessness is disempowering and disenfranchising," Audrey Thomas, executive director of Deborah's Place, told the Daily Herald. "You go into the system and have to rely on people for bathrooms, showers, clothes, anything that you need. You need their help for basic human needs, let alone assistance at really getting back on your feet. This lets you take back some of your own power. Access to the Internet lets you look up and find resources in a community yourself."
According to her blog, Walsh suffers from medical and mental health issues, and has not seen her two children in more than three years.
"I joined Twitter and social media first out of curiosity. Then it became a tool to help me learn to socialize more and to improve upon my life by exchanging in conversation with others, and sharing information and resources," Walsh wrote in her blog. "Social media became my connection to others. I vented my frustrations and emotions, I educated the world about homelessness and social issues, I shared information that others might have been able to use. My passion was to find hope and to be hope for someone else. I crave that influence, to know that I have made a difference in someone's life."
So far, Walsh has inspired at least six other homeless Chicagoans to start blogging or tweeting about their experiences. She is expected to speak at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library about her journey on Jan. 29 at 2 p.m., NBC Chicago reports.