The heartbreaking story of Charles Gladden, a Washington, D.C., resident who works as a custodian in the the Dirksen Senate Office by day and sleeps on the city streets at night, brought national attention to the plight of low-income workers.
Mr. Gladden makes $11 an hour sweeping floors and cleaning bathrooms in the Senate building in the nation’s Capitol. He says he spends much of his wages helping his daughters and grandchildren, who also struggle economically. His efforts to help his family, compounded by chronic health problems, have left Gladden unable to afford housing.
After news broke about Gladden's lack of shelter last week, a celebrity turned to social media to find a solution to his problems. On Saturday, Nathan Morris, co-founder of the musical group Boyz II Men, launched an online crowdfunding campaign to find Gladden a place to live. The campaign’s goal is $20,000, toward which the singer will donate $10,000.
Similar campaigns have helped other individuals in need and the generosity of those involved is laudable, experts say. But questions remain over how sustainable such a solution is, and whether assisting one man will help address the country’s problem of homelessness and poverty. Instead of celebrity attention, policymakers need to put their heads together to find long-term solutions to poverty, experts say.
The campaign "might be helpful for Mr. Gladden, and God help anyone who wants to help those in need, but obviously the problem of homelessness is a multi-billion dollar problem," says Ken Stern, author of the book "With Charities For All." "This man is working in the Senate, and the Senate has the power to help millions of people. Those are the sustainable solutions that we need. There are thousands of people out there who need this type of help.”
Gladden first spoke with the Washington Post about his housing situation after choosing to join other Senate staff members on a one-day strike to protest low-wages and difficult working conditions. The protesters, part of the national Fight for $15 movement, are requesting that President Obama support the demands for a living wage for all workers.
"I work for the most powerful people in the country and there I am sleeping at a subway stop," Gladden told CNN.
Upon hearing Gladden’s story, Mr. Morris launched into action.
"As many of you know I'm not a big social media guy due to the constant championing of negative and even sometimes evil content shared, but this story really touched my heart and is a [perfect] example of how we can easily lose sight of what really matters in life,” Morris wrote on the campaign’s “Go Fund Me” page.
By midday Monday, the campaign had raised more than $7,400 from more than 130 people through the crowd-funding site.
In February, a similar crowd-funding campaign also raised more than $300,000 for a Detroit man who walked 21 miles to work everyday. The campaign, which originally aimed to raise enough money for the man to purchase a car, far exceeded its original funding goal.
But Mr. Stern points out that celebrity attention to an issue and successful crowd-funding campaigns do not always bring long-term results.
“This happens with some frequency, when a celebrity takes on an issue. Celebrities have a huge megaphone in society. But these problems beg for long-term solutions and commitment, and celebrity campaigns can often be transitory," he says.
“Is a one-off crowd funding campaign a solution when you have large scale problems?”