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Homeless connecting with family, friends through social networking

Published: Wednesday, March 2 2011 6:32 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — They don't have jobs. They don't have homes. Yet the homeless are becoming just as adept at social networking — connecting with distant friends and family, even reuniting with lost loved ones.

The Road Home in Salt Lake City says homeless people tweeting and updating Facebook statuses is fairly common now.

The trend was first highlighted by a homeless New York man that has gained national attention. Daniel Morales, 58, hadn't seen his daughter, Sarah, in 11 years. In his search, he sent out a tweet and a picture of her at age 16.

Ultimately, the post led him to his daughter, Sarah Rivera — now a 27-year-old mother of two.

"This is a great moment for myself," Morales told reporters over the weekend. "I feel rejoiced — getting, touching my daughter again after 11 years."

In Salt Lake City, Facebook hasn't helped homeless Elisa Melo find estranged loved ones. It does aid her, however, in keeping her family up to date with her struggles.

She fled an abusive husband a year ago. She has been in The Road Home for nine months, trying to care for her 17-year-old special needs son while getting her life in order. While Melo has a cell phone, she uses Facebook to contact her family in Brazil twice per week.

"That helps a lot — reading the stuff they're writing me, telling me to go on and to keep myself healthy," Melo said Wednesday.

Case workers at The Road Home say many homeless people do have cell phones, but rules require they have to go to public libraries and other places to connect online for social networking.

It's something employees at the Salt Lake City Library downtown acknowledge probably happens — the homeless coming to the library to tap social media — though they try to stay out of visitors' personal affairs.

"It's a great place for people who don't necessarily have the Internet at home — or even a home base — they can come here and connect with their friends and family through social networking," library spokesman Andrew Shaw said.

Some are trying to spread the stories of the homeless online. In Morales' case, he was one of four homeless people handed a cell phone by "Unheard in New York." Created just weeks ago, the group aims to give the homeless a voice.

The organization created Twitter accounts for the people as well, which ultimately led Morales to his daughter. She was staying at a domestic violence shelter in Brooklyn.

"It's amazing like … the social network, it has some negative aspects behind it," Rivera told reporters in New York. "But in all reality it holds a purpose, and that purpose is you can instantly find anybody."

E-mail:aadams@desnews.com

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