On any given night, more than 600,000 people across the United States will sleep on the streets – they are homeless. One in three cities in the country criminalize homelessness with anti-camping and sleeping laws. The reasons for homelessness are many, and often complicated, such as job loss, medical bills, mental illness, addiction, or domestic violence. Statistics show that among the working, one in three people are just a paycheck away from homelessness. “Once that occurs, the average disconnect from loved ones can be 10 years or more,” said Jessica Day, co-founder of Miracle Messages. “It blows my mind that people lose contact with family or friends when they become homeless,” she said.
We met Jessica Day on a chilly, wind-whipped afternoon in San Francisco. Amidst the towering office buildings of the City’s Financial District, Day was scouring the streets, looking for an opportunity to use what she called “social-media-for-social-good.” It’s an effort that began in California and is now known around the world as Miracle Messages.
Miracle messages are short video postcards or handwritten notes from homeless people to their long lost loved ones, a first step toward reuniting. With the help of volunteers and the technology of cell phones and social media, these Miracle Messages are delivered via Facebook worldwide.
“So far, we’ve had over 2,000 volunteers from 17 different countries reach out, trying to make this project work,” said Day. Miracle Messages was the idea of Kevin Adler, following the death of his uncle. Adler’s uncle Mark suffered from schizophrenia and spent three decades on-and-off the streets before he passed away. Adler and his friend Day now work full time to offer people experiencing homelessness the opportunity to reconnect with loved ones, and it’s free to do so.
Tapping into everyone’s heart and passion to make the world a better place is what drives Adler and his army of volunteers. “I believe the more people who love and serve their community on a very local level will have an immense ripple effect,” Adler said. Recording a Miracle Message can be as simple as pulling your phone out of your pocket and striking up a conversation with those who are homeless.
The very first Miracle Message was recorded during the 2014 holiday season in San Francisco with a man named Jeffrey. The video message went viral in a very short time. Jeffrey’s family was quickly identified and tagged in multiple Facebook posts. A video response was then recorded five states away and those messages were shared on social media, allowing Jeffrey and his sister to reconnect via Facebook. The siblings promised not to give up on one another, no matter how tough life may appear. The family was reunited after 20 years thanks to the work of the Miracle Messages project. It’s what can be characterized as the American Spirit, helping one another without expecting anything in return.
Michael Kelly had not seen or spoken to his mother in over a decade. Kelly agreed to record a brief message sharing information about his life. The video postcard was seen by Kelly’s family, paving the way for a heartfelt mother-son reunion.
So far, Adler’s global network of volunteers have delivered 35 Miracle Messages, resulting in 19 reunions. Horace Avila of Miami had not seen his brother Isaac in 40 years. It was an emotional video-reunion thanks to Miracle Messages. Avila told his brother he missed him, never stopped loving him, and asked him to please come back. Both men cried on the other end of the video camera and agreed to remain part of each other’s lives from that point forward.
Perhaps the most sensitive part to this project though is approaching a homeless individual, for reasons of privacy, respect, and safety. For anyone with a smartphone who wants to get involved with Miracle Messages, the training is pretty simple. Day offered a few routine conversation starters that have worked well in getting the homeless to share their stories.
“I approach very simply and say hi how are you, where you from, have you lived here your entire life, where’s your hometown, do you have family, and do you keep in touch with that family,” Day said. Being able to offer Miracle Messages is a good ice-breaker.
Miracle Messages appear to be working because 40% of those reunited are now off the streets. Seeing a need and finding a solution, an example of the American Spirit in action.
Adler and Day work tirelessly to help the homeless from San Bernardino to San Francisco, and New Mexico to New York. There are small teams of volunteers or chapters in a handful of major U.S. cities. Miracle Messages has an even bigger mission – to mobilize on the Internet to reunite the world. That means helping 1% of the 100 million homeless people on earth reconnect with their loved ones by the year 2021. It’s a lofty goal, but certainly one that embodies the American Spirit.
Mary Parks, Television Personality, Award-Winning Journalist