This Viral Photo of a Homeless Person Freezing on the Street Is Actually From 2013... in Canada

Photo: National Post, Remix by Matt Novak (Gizmodo)

It’s a heartbreaking photo. But it doesn’t show what you think it does.

The viral photo, which shows a person sleeping on the sidewalk and covered in snow, has been making the rounds on politically conservative social media this week in an attempt at commentary on immigration. It’s been tweeted by actor James Woods, retweeted by Donald Trump Jr., plastered across Facebook, and shared on 4chan and elsewhere.

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According to conservative social media, the photo supposedly shows one of the people who froze to death this week during the polar vortex that has caused the upper midwest to experience windchills as cold as -50 degrees.

James Woods even included the caption, “Sorry, fellow American, we were busy helping invaders get through the desert for their free stuff.” Woods seems to be parroting President Donald Trump’s lies about immigrants being “invaders” who are getting “free stuff” from Americans. But racist bullshit aside, the photo isn’t from this week. And it doesn’t show an American street. It wasn’t even taken in the United States.

The photo is actually from 2013 and was taken in Toronto. It appears to have first been published in Canada’s National Post on January 23, 2013. If you right-click and save the image to your desktop the name of the file even appears as homeless-man-toronto.jpg.

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Make no mistake, Americans are dying right now from exposure to the cold. As of last night, eight people have died, including a man in Milwaukee who froze to death in his garage and an elderly man in Illinois man who fell while trying to get into his home and was only found after he’d frozen to death. And America’s housing crisis has pushed thousands of people to the streets in the wealthiest country in the entire world. But this particular photo doesn’t show what people with an anti-immigrant agenda might want it to show.

There are an estimated 554,000 Americans living on the street on any given night, as of 2017—enough people to populate a moderately large city. But this particular photo doesn’t represent that crisis. There are countless other photos you can find online of Americans who are living without homes.

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Like, for instance, this one showing a person experiencing homelessness in New York on January 30, 2019:

Photo: Getty Images
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Or this one showing Pastor John Steger giving out gloves to people without homes in Minneapolis on January 30, 2019:

Photo: Getty Images
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And this photo of a man in Portland, Maine, sitting in the snow outside of a coffee shop today.

Photo: AP
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America is in the middle of a crisis. But it’s not because of “invader” immigrants. It’s because the U.S. lacks the basic social safety net necessary to take care of its own people.

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About the author

Matt Novak

Matt Novak is the editor of Gizmodo's Paleofuture blog