Florida Man Was Homeless — Then Made $10,000 Starting His Own YouTube Channel

Photo: Blackishtea via Wikimedia Commons
Lionel Barnes poses in front of his car

Being let go from his information technology job in Plant City, Florida wasn’t this Florida man’s biggest concern. His biggest worry was where he and his teenage son would be living and sleeping.

In 2018, Lionel Barnes had lost his job, ended a relationship and was struggling to make ends meet. During the day, Barnes was going from fast food restaurant to fast food restaurant borrowing the free wifi to apply for jobs online. At night, his son, Lionel Jr. was sleeping with him in his 20-year-old Mercedes.

That's when he remembered his Google Adsense account.

Barnes was not only able to turn his life around, but he became an internet personality in the process. YouTube was his saving grace and it’s what he says “changed their lives.”

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How did Lionel Barnes use YouTube to change his life?

The 41-year-old had been active on YouTube where he posted a few videos prior to becoming homeless. After finding himself in dire straights, he remembered his old Google Adsense account where he had some money left over. 

The way Google Adsense works is that YouTube pays its creators based on how many views their video received as well as how much its corresponding advertisements receive. More views translate to higher revenue.

“I had $38 in there, and you need at least $100 before YouTube will pay out. I thought, if I could just make another $62, I can get a whole $100,” Barnes said.

He did just that. He would record videos from his car, off the free internet from stores around Tampa, edit the videos and upload them to the platform. His old videos focused on relationship comedy sketches, but now he was reporting on Black celebrity rumors and drama.

He called his channel “The Lionel Barnes Show” initially before changing it to “Lionel B Show.” While hustling for quick cash on YouTube, he was also applying for jobs that included a position at a Tampa Bay news station. But they turned him down. 

“I guess they thought I was a real-life reporter, or something,” the Panama City native said.

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When did Barnes catch his big break?

After all of his hard work and grinding for money, a video of his blew up on the internet.

He uploaded a video to his channel titled “Jay-Z Runs Up on Offset About Beyonce.” He talks in the video about how Jay-Z was upset with Offset over a lyric in his most recent song at the time and the rapper confronted Offset backstage.

The video reached a million views in 24 hours and as that number kept growing, so did Barnes's Google Adsense. When he checked his account, he couldn’t believe what he was looking at.

“I was like, there’s no way they’re going to send me that much money,” Barnes said. “It has to be an error or something.”

The $10,000 in his account was what took him and his son off the streets. Barnes and his son sat in a McDonald’s parking lot as they waited for the money to be deposited. They believed it was too good to be true.

After the money came in, Barnes knew what he had to do. He got them off the streets after three long months and he took the opportunity to pursue his new career even further.

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Since his big break, Barnes has gained over 350,000 subscribers on YouTube and he’s amassed over 90 million views. Money problems were out the window and his passion for music now seemed real. 

He recently released a song with rapper E.D.I. Mean of The Outlawz, which was a group founded by Tupac Shakur. He has shown no signs of slowing down yet.

What’s next for Barnes?

From living off of the streets to now appearing on a digital billboard above Times Square in New York City, Barnes is making a name for himself in the industry.

“The billboard was super surreal, but it came at a time in my life where it seems like every day is surreal, because the opportunities all the sudden are coming so fast,” Barnes said. “I guess it’s like the saying, it takes 10 years to be an overnight success.”

This YouTuber, social media influencer and aspiring rapper has been filming his own pilot footage of his car for a new car series. With the money he has made on YouTube, he bought himself his dream car, a 1972 Chevrolet Impala.

Whether it’s on YouTube, Instagram or a T.V. show, Lionel Barnes is sure to be on everyone’s radar soon, if he isn’t already.

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Tomás Diniz Santos is a writer living in Orlando, Florida. He covers news, entertainment, and pop-culture topics.