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InforUm: A National Dialogue on Housing, Poverty & Homelessness
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Joel John Roberts, publisher and main blogger for InforUm, discusses his thoughts on the power of building a national dialogue about housing, poverty, and homelessness. Joel is also the Executive Director of a Los Angeles-based organization serving people experiencing homelessness in Southern California. He shares his reflections on 13 years of experience in the field.
Joel John Roberts believes in creating venues for sharing opinions. He’s publisher and main blogger for InforUm, a website that seeks to create and sustain a “a nationwide dialogue about housing, poverty, and homelessness.”

Joel has worked in the homelessness field for nearly 14 years. He’s also the Executive Director of a Los Angeles-based organization serving people experiencing homelessness in Southern California. Joel started blogging five years ago on his first blog, L.A.’s Homelessness Blog. At the time there were not many blogs about homelessness. “It was an outlet to vent my frustrations and to share an experienced perspective on homelessness.” He blogged daily, Monday through Friday, and elicited many responses. Joel’s goal was to help people to see outside of Los Angeles and to help people understand what was happening in other communities. His desire to reach a wider audience and start a national dialogue led him to launch InforUm.

Joel says blogging “is therapy for me. People don’t understand that the average person doesn’t know that this work is very political. There are different agendas and different egos. You either get beaten up and leave, or you just keep going.” Joel has made the choice to keep going and to write about his experiences and opinions. He believes in sharing the highs and the lows inherent in the work to end homelessness in our communities.

He is not afraid to write things that others might disagree with. One time he wrote about how he believes that emergency shelters need to transition and change. He received angry responses and many accusations of disrespect. His response was to encourage people who were upset to share their own perspectives. He believes in fostering dialogue and is willing to publish different points of view.

“When I was in college, I worked in homeless shelters. That is where I got my start. Now it’s decades later and we have a whole new paradigm about how we look at homelessness. I have been through three different mayors in Los Angeles. Homelessness has not gone away. But I am hopeful that we are doing things in new ways.”

InforUm is not trying to promote a certain agenda, but working to build an online community. Joel’s goals for InforUm include adding new approaches to communicating. “We would like to add videos, photographs, artwork. We want to use Twitter. I would love to have a video about how it feels for someone moving out of homelessness to walk into a new apartment for the first time,” says Joel.

In addition to Joel’s regular blog posts, InforUm is a forum for contributors from across the country to share their opinions and perspectives on poverty, housing, and homelessness in America. InforUm is a rich, online conversation that includes first person narratives, reflections on years of working to end homelessness, emerging issues and needs, new research, and advocacy. Contributors include people who have exited homelessness, providers at agencies across the country, the executive directors of national advocacy and research organizations devoted to ending homelessness, and many other voices from across the nation.

Since InforUm launched in October of 2009, the site has received nearly one million visitors. Many reporters have been reading the blog and contacting Joel to learn more about his perspective. But Joel is clear to point out that InforUm is not just about education or promotion. “We want to get more people involved. We need experts. I am only one opinion. Our goal is to share multiple perspectives.” Joel shares that he is most passionate when writing about the people whose lives are impacted by homelessness – both people experiencing it and providers working to help end it – and how they inspire him.

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