Empowering the powerless

Raising the Roof's new digital campaign looks to dispel stereotypes about the homeless by giving them a chance to answer mean tweets.


Raising the Roof wants you to think twice about the things you say and believe about the homeless.

In a new campaign, developed by Leo Burnett, the “reading Mean Tweets” format (made famous online thanks to The Jimmy Kimmel Show) is utilized to empower the homeless who are targeted by people online and give them a chance to speak up for themselves.

To do this, Raising the Roof reached out to local organizations to partner with 10 different people who are currently experiencing homelessness. On the HumansForHumans site, the participants not only read some of the real, hateful messages that have been directed at the homeless, but respond to them directly — dispelling some of the misconceptions people have and bringing attention to the broader societal issues that have contributed to some of the stereotypical images of homelessness that many people perpetuate. The site is set up so that individual videos — as well as answers to more direct questions covering the use of shelters, pets, the lack of support from friends and family, and substance abuse — can be shared through social media.

RTR3Carolann Barr, executive director of Raising the Roof, says the idea is to both humanize those who face homelessness and make the general public aware of the complex issues that are behind some of the common stereotypes about them. While Raising the Roof has attempted to dispel myths in the past, Barr says this is the first time it’s spoken directly to the homeless on this scale.

“That’s one of the most powerful ways to dispel myths about certain groups, by empowering them and hearing it right from the source,” she says. “The more we see the people who face homelessness as just one of us that happens to be in a hard time in their life, the more likely we are as a society to help out and do things like encouraging the government to continue to provide support.”

Some of its past work, like the long-running toque campaign or last year’s life-sized donation boxes, have been about driving donations, but Raising the Roof also advocates for long-term solutions to homelessness, and the hope is that bringing attention to the issues that contribute to it will lead to more support for programs that address them in a meaningful way.

A 30-second television spot, as well as pre-roll, print and OOH ads, will drive to the site. M&K Media handled the media buy and, like Leo Burnett, provided its services pro bono.

“The idea was to get it in as many mediums as possible,” Barr says. “But we’re also really pushing people to go to the website. That’s really new for us, but making it really easy to share that information on social media just gets more people engaged.”

Earlier this month, the Canadian Safe School Network launched their own take on the “reading mean tweets” trend with John St., using it to focus on how it contributes to the cyber-bullying of young people, complete with a crowd-funding campaign to facilitate a larger-scale media buy.