“Many years ago I had a great job in the television industry and I ended up homeless on Hollywood Boulevard.”
The story of how Mark Horvath managed to rebuild his life and get off of the streets is a remarkable one, but it doesn’t end there. Just a few years later, Mark, a television producer, lost everything for the second time. “I rebuilt my life back to a three-bedroom house with a pool in the backyard, new car, nice cushy marketing job,” Mark recalls. “Then the economy in 2008 tanked. I lost everything again, except my sobriety.”
Mark was unemployed on and off for the following 19 months and although he somehow managed to avoid ending up back on the streets, he describes that period in his life as “a dark time. I didn’t know where food was coming from, where rent was coming from,” he confesses now.
The idea for Invisible People – a vlog turned non-profit organisation helping humanise homelessness – initially came to Mark after stumbling upon a coffee table book featuring heart-breaking images of people sleeping rough. He realised that he could recreate the message through the power of film. When he ultimately lost his job again (“my boss had to lay of 50 people and I was the last one he hired”), Mark grabbed his camera and went out and started filming.
“I want to tell you that it was my marketing genius, but really I just needed purpose. I needed a reason to get up in the morning,” says Mark. Yet he almost didn’t pursue the idea any further when it came to the postproduction process, as he couldn’t edit his material to as high a standard as he would have liked due to the incredibly basic laptop he was using.
“To me, video should have music and be edited and have graphics and look all pretty and win me an Emmy, you know?” says Mark, who would look back on his decision to upload his videos in their original state as a pivotal moment. “After a week I said, you know what? I’m just going to put these up raw and unedited,” he says. “And that was the magic. Authenticity has replaced production value, so what attracted people to the Invisible People videos was that it was raw and unedited. If I had gone them produced videos, it would never have taken off.”
Mark, who now lives in upstate New York, launched Invisible People in 2008 with just “$45 and dinky laptop and a camera. And it was a cheesy WordPress site, it was horrible,” he says. “If I look back as a marketer I would think ‘Oh my God, this will never take off.’” Yet something about the project resonated with audiences and even captured the attention of YouTube, who featured Invisible People on their homepage. “1.6million people watched a video on homelessness that would never have had a positive interaction with homelessness,” says Mark.
Eight years later and Mark has travelled to over 300 different cities across the world where he has shared the stories of the mothers, children, veterans and elderly who have no other choice than to sleep on our streets. While they may feel invisible, Mark is able to give them a global audience by handing them a microphone and harnessing the power of social media.
With homelessness steadily rising (there are almost 50,000 people currently sleeping rough in LA alone), Mark has no immediate plans to hang up his camera. “We need to educate the general public and how we educate the general public is by empowering homeless people to tell their own stories. We don’t need to hear from another politician or research professor or the chief exec of a charity, we need to hear from that person sleeping rough,” Mark, who travelled to LA last month to help pass a housing bond that could potentially raise $1.2 billion and create 10,000 housing units, maintains.
As Invisible People doesn’t generate any revenue, Mark essentially works two jobs – yet he refuses to walk away from the project until what he does is no longer of any benefit to anyone. “I get this impression that if not you, then who? I’ll stop Invisible People when it stops having impact,” he concludes. “If Invisible People stops changing people’s paradigms on what homelessness is and what people experiencing homelessness or sleeping rough, then I will go back and get a normal marketing job and vacation in Italy like normal people.”