2 homeless TikTok creators say the platform could help lift them out of poverty
HomelessTikTokers Phoenix Black and Raven White live outside in Massachusetts, and are unable to afford a home.
- There are half a million Americans who are currently homeless.
- Black and White are now earning up to $200 a day from
TikTok. "TikTok may very well be our way out of poverty," said Black.
Phoenix Black and Raven White, a couple in their late 20s, once ran a successful e-cigarette business in Massachusetts, manufacturing vape juices and selling products. The pair told Insider they've together for seven years, through thick and thin. For the last few years, things have been thin.
Changes to FDA rules around selling e-cigarette products meant that the couple had to shut down their business. The pair got new jobs, but Black says he broke his hand in an accident, and had complications after surgery to place rods to stabilize the injury that kept him in the hospital for two months. Black had no insurance, and bills mounted. That was a year and a half ago.
"At that point we lost our place and were homeless," says Black. "We tried hotels and AirBnB's, but it got to the point where we couldn't keep up with it with minimum wage jobs." Both Black and White's families (the pair joke that when they marry, they'll become the Grays) weren't able to offer support, the couple says, and their credit scores took a hit. Despite both working, they feel like they can't get back on the housing ladder.
"Landlords are extremely choosy, so because we don't look good on paper, we haven't been successful at finding an apartment," says Black. Instead, the pair decided to set up a camp in the Massachusetts woods, work on their credit score, and save up in the hopes of buying a house.
Homelessness affects hundreds of thousands of Americans
According to the Council of Economic Advisers, over half a million Americans sleep without a roof over their heads every night in the US. Black and White thought their journey was worth documenting on YouTube, where they have 2,600 subscribers, and on TikTok, where they've rapidly gained more than 223,000 followers.
"We've started our social media journeys to try and show a different side to homelessness, to show it can be your average everyday people who find themselves in that position," says Black. "Every winter we see so much misinformation spread and victim-blaming about the homeless we figured we could become a voice for the topic to break down some of the stigmas and stereotypes."
The couple encountered the negative stereotypes the first winter they were homeless. Massachusetts winters can be brutal, with snow covering every surface. "You have pictures of people covered in snow sleeping on benches popping up in local Facebook groups," says Black. Some commenters share pity and compassion, while others give their two cents. "'It's drugs, it's their fault, they should have made better choices,'" recounts Black, who has previously worked as a drug and alcohol counselor.
"Here I sat, working my job, not on drugs, just trying to survive and already ashamed and embarrassed about my situation to the point I hid it from everyone I associated with," he says. "I see so many people talking horribly about the homeless, just for the simple fact I don't live in a house. It seemed so wrong to me."
"We also hoped to inspire others to overcome obstacles in their lives, and to educate people who might ever find themselves in this position."
"Also," Black admits, "making social media a secondary career doesn't hurt our situation either."
Becoming Black and White became content creators
The couple's YouTube channel came first: content creation has always been an interest for Black, and he found someone willing to help him edit the longer-form videos on a Facebook group for YouTube content creators. They offered their work for free.
The Less Than a Home TikTok channel was set up to drive traffic to YouTube, but ended up eclipsing the video-sharing site. The couple livestream on TikTok every night, and create short videos giving a glimpse into their lives. More importantly, they also produce "homeless pro tips" and videos on how to survive while out in the wild.
Each video is seen by tens of thousands of TikTok users, but some of the most popular are "day in the life" style videos. One showing the couple's morning routine, starting from them getting up in their tent to Black brewing a morning coffee for his partner in bed, has been seen 7.3 million times. Another, showing how the couple collects and purifies water, has been seen 1.5 million times.
Their videos announcing White's pregnancy, which was a surprise to both, have also proved popular with the fanbase they've built up online.
TikTok has given the couple hope and inspiration
So far their social media presence has given the couple a creative outlet, but not significant returns. The Less Than A Home YouTube channel isn't eligible for monetization, but Black plans to learn how to edit videos himself, and has invested in a cheap laptop to be able to do so. On TikTok, donations given through the livestreams and TikTok's Creator Fund, which opened applications earlier this summer, have helped the couple earn extra money. "We've gone from $1-2 a day for views to $100-200 a day," Black says. "While I do know the income is dependent on the views moving forward, this is huge. TikTok may very well be our way out of poverty."
But it means more than just that. "Above the financial gain is the fact I've met people who care, who empathize, who push me to continue to do better," says Black. "It's an additional level of accountability and we've built bonds with people I can say are like a family.
free water falls from the sky.♬ Feel Good Inc. - Gorillaz
"I never would've believed anyone would care about what a 'homeless person' had to say, especially with the amount of dehumanizing comments I do get at times, but now I have people that actually care about my success," he adds.
"At the end of the day I'm shining light on the topic of homelessness and trying to break down some of the stigmas around it," he explains. "I'm trying to rehumanize the people who are defined as homeless."
The social media success has also had a positive effect on both Black and White's lives. "I feel that despite my situation that I'm valued, and that the impact I make on others' lives is more important to me now," he says. "I no longer feel like a forgotten outcast of society. Through TikTok I feel more a part of it again than ever before.
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