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Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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Making Invisible People visible

July 03 2010
Activist shocked by Alaskan homelessness

A veteran documentary maker and homeless advocate has said he was shocked as he travelled around America's most northerly and sparsely populated state, to create a "voice-giving" website

Mark Horwath was shaken by the stories homeless people in Anchorage, Alaska told him. Despite having listened to homeless tales for years, he was surprised as the complexity of problems and the levels of alcoholism the state's homeless face. "The problem is severe. Being candid, I've never seen anything like it," he said, "The issue is alcohol dependence at its worst, [so] the normal recovery models may not work."

During his filming tour of the "the last frontier", 1-3 March this year, he came across several so-called 'inebriates' drinking Listerine mouthwash.

"The story that kept being told over and over again was not so much the issue of homelessness, but a severe alcohol problem among the Native Alaskans," he wrote on his Hardly Normal blog. "I was told three homeless people found dead with empty Listerine bottles next to them. Listerine is 26.9 per cent alcohol, making it approximately 54 proof."

Anchorage is home to approximately half of the state's 698,473 residents. Horvath visited the city's homeless camps, where more than a dozen people died last winter, to videotape its rough sleeping residents' personal stories.

"Honestly, I was not ready," he continued. "For close to 14 years I have been working in homeless services at some capacity. I have literally walked into tent cities all over America. But I had never seen homelessness through a cop's lens."

Horwath spoke to The Pavement about his Invisible People TV website last July and has since filmed all over America. He created the site to allow those usually 'invisible' to the general public to tell their histories. "Some homeless people are passed on the street as if they don't exist or looked at as though they were nothing more than litter," Horvath said. "My goal is make homeless visible to everyone else."