[ View the story "Twitter feed gives unfiltered look at poverty " on Storify] Twitter feed gives unfiltered look at poverty Canadian youth worker Mark Cherrington hopes to expose issues faced by youth on the streets.
The Stream· Thu, Dec 19 2013 10:40:12
Young mom: 6 children, youngest 1, oldest 10; cut off benefits/Human Services. States, worker says she isn't trying hard enough to get a jobMark Cherrington
17yr old living in cardboard box. Offered group home bed- refused. His 18yr girlfriend lives in same box. He won't leave her #Romeo #JulietMark Cherrington
Through his tweets, Cherrington hopes to expose more Canadians to the realities of poverty. He told Al Jazeera in a phone interview, "We have a group of people that live on the margins of the society that we don't want to look at, and unfortunately, a lot of them are children. By tweeting this, I think I'm exposing a serious problem".
The 49-year-old youth worker, who has spent the past two decades working for
drives a car
stocked with a diverse tool kit of things the youths he works with might want or need, including items like cigarettes, bus tickets, condoms, and clean needles. He explained, "Understanding that a lot of these kids are entrenched in street life and don't have their basic needs met, we try to meet those needs so they don't have to meet their needs by themselves. The way they meet those needs is through sexual exploitation and crime."
He estimates that more than 80 per cent of the youth that he works with are indigenous. "First Nations people are, for, whatever reason, on the poverty side," he explained. "Its an indicator that we have done something terribly wrong to the population and we continue to do wrong." In Alberta, 41 per cent of of indigenous children
live in poverty, compared to 17 per cent for the whole population.
His Twitter feed offers an unfiltered view into the lives of the youth he works with.
Violence towards #Aboriginal women has become so normalized. Arms blossom into violets & yellows on this 14yr girl
Off to a secret hand -off with 17yr girl who's scared. Scared of parent's knowledge & may needing a lot of support
3:30 AM. Off to take a 16yr girl to hospital, something about needing stitches and a knifeMark Cherrington
14yr girl hands me her journal (I gave her one a month ago) in the 22 days she wrote in it. She was beaten 14 times. Sexually assaulted 9X,Mark Cherrington
However, some have questioned whether Cherrington's feed is exploitative.
“@CBCNews: Edmonton youth worker tweets about at-risk teens
”exploitation or just showing a reality we want to forget?DJ and Ian
Among the critics is former British Columbia youth worker Preston Guno, who told Canada's CBC:
"[He] is taking some very tragic circumstances, personal stories of hardships from young people and using them to throw it on social media to try and catch people’s attention under the guise of bringing issues forward that society is not aware of," said Guno.cbc.ca
In response to the criticism, Cherrington defended his methods to Al Jazeera: "I'm talking about an invisible society, that's protected by legislation from exposing their identities and the day-to-day issues. I'm trying to show people who these invisible children are, while at the same time not exploiting them or breaching their confidentiality or identity". He has also tweeted in defence of his work.
Concern my twitter account is exploiting those I advocate. A fair comment that I hoped I addressed on CBC Current & 8th Fire. Airs tomorrow.Mark Cherrington
See prev tweet. Dont identify youth involved in justice or child welfare system. Get "Informed" consent regardless.Mark Cherrington
C prev tweet. Easy way out: Shut account down. Hope I portray real look at child poverty & injustice. While maintain dignity of youth.Mark Cherrington
Despite the limited criticism, the response online has been overwhelmingly positive.
@MarkCherrington exploiting or showing the reality of life for many young people. Your account is the only serious one I follow. #realifeKeith Madison
@MarkCherrington As a Youth Worker (secure care in NS) I applaud you! You give a voice to tragic but very real events that should be known.D. Mark Wells
Riveting and important tweets by @MarkCherrington Reality of life for marginalized youth.lhms
@MarkCherrington You are a stronger human than I. These kids need you. And they need us adults to change things for them.RedIndianGirl
Cherrington estimates that his tweets have led to more than $60,000 worth of donations to Legal Aid Alberta. He also believes his tweets are empowering the youth that he works with, and raising awareness in the broader community. He explains, "The more important way is that its empowering people, and the community is engaging with this population, the population is giving to the community".
What do you think of Cherrington's Twitter strategy? Let The Stream know in the comments below.