US: Social Startups Using Technology to Help Homeless People

In the US, 3.5 million people experience homelessness each year. Social startups are now using technology to give homeless people a helping hand.

Silicon Valley is turning its attention to one of San Francisco’s most entrenched problems: homelessness. The good news is that many of these tech ideas are replicable and could make a difference all across the country.

San Francisco has one of the highest rates of homelessness in the United States. Jane (name changed) spends most of her days carrying a trolley around the city’s Fisherman’s Wharf.

Some in the tech community are trying to help including HandUp, a company linking donors directly to homeless people or low-income households who need support.

The social startups ecosystem

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HandUp distributes donor’s funds to members with the strongest necessity and focuses on delivering basic needs such as food, medical care, shelter and technology.

“The support I have received has made the possibility for new beginnings, bringing a heightened sensitivity and care to how I live,” said Rodney who received funds to fix his wheelchair and purchase a laptop to find work and communicate with his family.

Crowd funding: the power of virtual and real-world connections

The platform allows users to send words of encouragement directly to members and receive updates as they progress toward their goals.

“Everyone deserves the opportunity to have their basic needs met. Sometimes all it takes is a hand from the local community,” the company’s founders said.

According to Sandra and Robert who raised funds for housing, food and transportation, HandUp is not a charity; it’s an effective tool inspiring people to become full members of society.

“It’s about what we need, no hand outs. Just a hand up to pull us out of the corner. You aren’t just investing in us, you are proving that humans can and still do care.”

Technology of the people, by the people, for the people

HandUp set up a direct giving system for homeless people and neighbours in need. Basically it created a social safety net by allowing people to donate directly to a HandUp member – some of the most well respected homeless service organisations in the nation- via their web profiles.

The organisation is also teaming up with other social startups and web developers to give homeless people more access to technology. To end urban poverty HandUp donates devices like computers or cellphones to disadvantaged people. It encourages people to “commit long-term to a nonprofit’s technology need” and go beyond the weekend hack.

Linking the tech-industry to the social service sector

Social Startups Using Technology to Help Homeless People

HandUp is one of a small yet significant handful of social entrepreneurs who’ve turned their attention lately to San Francisco’s persistent homelessness problem. Another is, Feeding Forward, an app which enables anyone with a smartphone and a surplus of food that’s about to go to waste to immediately donate the leftovers to a service organisation in need.

Komal Ahmad had just come back from Navy summer training and was attending the University of California at Berkeley, when a homeless man approached her, asking for cash to buy food because he was hungry.

Instead of giving him money, Ahmad invited the young man to lunch and listened to his story. He was 26 years old; a former soldier recently returned from Iraq who was now spending his days on the side of the road begging for food.

Feeding Forward fights hunger, food waste

This is when Ahmad, now 25 years old and CEO of Feeding Forward, decided to establish an on-demand food recovery service to donate excess food to local homeless shelters through a website and mobile app.

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“Imagine a football stadium filled to its brim,” Ahmad told CNET. “That’s how much food goes wasted every single day in America.”

If food waste is a problem in the US, on the other hand, USDA estimates that roughly 15 percent of households face food insecurity in the country.

Technology for a better, less wasteful world

Over the years, the program has expanded to over 140 college campuses across the US. Feeding Forward is using technology to streamline the process of food recovery and distribution, giving businesses the power to eliminate food waste within minutes, while helping people in need. It’s a win-win scenario.

Since the company was launched in 2013, it has already fed 576,580 people in the Bay Area.

Call it utopian but studies have revealed that local communities are at the hearth of social revival. What do you think of social startups using technology to connect communities and help eradicate homelessness?

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