Should we call foul on Eric Sheptock, the 'homeless homeless advocate'?
In her memoir "Glass Castle," Jeannette Walls recounts growing up off the grid with parents who eventually embrace a life of homelessness. Where they'll sleep, how they'll eat, what they'll wear -- it all becomes an adventure. Through Walls' lens, we see another side of the homeless experience; one that's driven by choice and not circumstance.
Reading a recent article in the Washington Post about Eric Sheptock, the "homeless homeless advocate," I thought of "Glass Castle." Although Sheptock certainly landed on the streets by circumstance, is he now staying there by choice? The story began:
"Eric Sheptock has 4,548 Facebook friends, 839 Twitter followers, two blogs and an e-mail account with 1,600 unread messages.
What he doesn't have is a place to live."
Despite being homeless, 41-year-old Sheptock has transformed himself into a social-justice "celebrity" by blogging and social-networking his experiences for his many followers and serving as a voice to the homeless community. Topics range from soup kitchen locations to why it's hard to get and then keep a job when you don't have a place to live.
If he can amass such a following and drive so much traffic to his Web endeavors, why doesn't he work, asks social media consultant James Richardson. In an article for the Huffington Post, he wrote:
“Sheptock, who has proven himself a capable and tenacious social justice campaigner, could have been earning a pay check, contributing to the tax fund from which he and those for whom he campaigns have benefited over the years. [...] The great tragedy of our American experience is not an individual's decision to waste their capacity for success -- lost, in some cases, on griping substance abuse, listlessness and even Facebook -- but our refusal to demand better of them."
Sheptock argues that he's too busy with his advocacy work for a 9-to-5 gig and that he can't inform on homelessness without being a part of its community. But maybe that's just an excuse. Sheptock has been through the wringer. He was beaten and abandoned as a baby, raised by adoptive parents who had 37 children, and became a crack addict early in adulthood. For better or worse, Sheptock seems to have found a home -- and a purpose -- in his homelessness.
What do you think? Do we applaud Sheptock for making the most of his situation by trying to effect change in the homeless community? Or do we, as Richardson says, expect more out Sheptock, who could be a productive, tax-paying member of society?
-- Alexandra Le Tellier
Photo: Screenshot from Sheptock's Facebook page.