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Homeless Boca Raton woman turns to Twitter for help

Friday 14 October 2011

From Florida newspaper the Sun Sentinel:

 

HelpingBlair screenshot
This is a photo of Blair Miller's blog,
helpingblair.blogspot.com, where she posted
a picture of herself in happier times.
(helpingblair.blogspot.com, courtesy / October 6, 2011)

Homeless Boca Raton woman turns to Twitter for help

By Rebekah Monson, Staff writer
8:59 p.m. EDT, October 8, 2011

Estranged from family and friends, broke, sick with chronic pain from diseases including fibromyalgia and afraid to spend another night in her car, Blair Miller cast out the only lifeline she had left. She sent a tweet from her mobile phone:

"Ok if anyone knows anyone Who could help a Fibro gal In distress till I find help I would be eternally grateful. I am not contagious. S.E FL"

Within hours on Sept. 26, about 20 people from Los Angeles, Atlanta, Seattle, Philadelphia and cities across the United States began answering the call. They gave hotel points, rented her a post office box, sent gift cards for gas and groceries, started a blog to tell her story and opened a PayPal account to collect a few hundred dollars worth of donations.

"I got a place to sleep, and my faith was sort of restored," said Miller, 57, who has lived in and around Boca Raton since the 1980s. "It was a cry for help. I simply did not know what else to do. I still can't believe it."

Miller's Twitter supporters managed to keep her in a motel until Monday, when her doctor sent her back to West Boca Medical Center for treatment of chest pains and shortness of breath, she said.

"Blair's story resonated with me on the level that it could have been me, and, boom, I was in immediately," said Suzy Soro, an actress, writer and comedian in Los Angeles who helped launch the campaign.

Soro's own Twitter followers bailed her out earlier this year when she, too, faced eviction and homelessness.

People with fibromyalgia and other chronic illnesses donated to help a fellow sufferer. Others gave because they once lived in their cars or on the street, she said.

"It's pretty remarkable that so many people, total strangers, would step in, but I think people are generally good," she said. "I think that people have a lot of compassion, and Twitter is great for that. I think Blair's honesty really touched people."

Miller moved to the Broken Sound community in Boca Raton from New York in 1989. A decade later, her marriage fell apart and she filed for bankruptcy in 2002. She has been estranged from her mother and sister since August and living in her 2000 Toyota Solara between hospital stays, she said.

Miller lives on $674 in disability benefits per month and food stamps, she said. Fibromyalgia and a litany of other autoimmune diseases make it painful for her to work, stand or sit for long periods, according to her primary care physician, Dr. Luis Alvarez.

"I'm terrified. I'm embarrassed," she said. "I used to have money, a life, a business — and now this. Now I have to ask for help."

The help Miller received from a scattered group of strangers is unusual, but the causes of her homelessness are common, said Daniel Gibson, director of programs at The Lord's Place, which provides help for the homeless in Palm Beach County.

Resources are scarce for single homeless women without substance abuse, domestic-violence problems or children, and many homeless struggle with unemployment and medical problems, Gibson said.

"When people look at building homeless services, you first take the low-hanging fruit," he said. "First, you take care of the families, and then there's such a great need for help for homeless men that you turn there. There are fewer services available for single, childless women."

Miller's story shows that social media is an important way to rally support for people who do fall through the cracks, Gibson said.

"For the mere fact that it raised awareness of this woman's needs and got her some help, it's a pretty powerful tool," he said.

More people are turning online for financial help. In recent years, cyberbegging websites such as Begslist, Cyberbeg and DonateMoney2Me have sprung up, and many charities regularly use social media to seek donations.

Social media sites, including Twitter and Facebook, don't vet pleas on their services, so donors should exercise caution when giving.

"I think anything that raises awareness is a good thing," Gibson said."People have to be careful, though, and I would say that putting money toward an organization in this community that has been working on these issues is still the safest way to help."

Miller's supporters say they didn't worry whether her plea was genuine.

"The desperation I saw in her tweets was like the desperation I saw in the faces of people who got off the buses in Houston from Katrina," said Coral Stavros, another organizer of the campaign who lives in Atlanta. "So what if I'm out a few bucks? I would spend that some nights out at the bar."

The support from the Twitter community has been a welcome stopgap, but when she's released from the hospital again, Miller faces returning to live in the car littered with dirty laundry and packed with what's left of her possessions.

"I'm afraid I am going to die alone in my car," Miller said, gulping back tears. "I am so grateful, but I am still totally afraid."

Miller's supporters are scouring classifieds for rooms for rent and calling charities to try to find her a more permanent home, but they know that time is short, Stavros said.

"We can all come together and build up momentum on Twitter and on the blog and everything, but the Internet community is not going to be able to support her indefinitely," Stavros said.

rsmonson@tribune.com or 561-243-6624

Copyright © 2011, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

 

The above originally appeared here.

 


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