Entrepreneur

Social media gives the homeless in S.F. a helping hand

A local nonprofit is working to help the homeless by engaging with the tech community on social media.

Above: A local nonprofit is working to help the homeless by engaging with the tech community on social media.

Until recently, Alana was one of hundreds of disabled and elderly people living on the streets of San Francisco. When her wheelchair was stolen, Alana couldn’t move from her sleeping spot. A community advocate helped Alana secure a spot in a shelter and reached out to a San Francisco-based nonprofit called Project Homeless Connect.

Kara Zordel, the executive director of the organization, is thinking like an entrepreneur to spread the word about Alana and others in the disabled homeless woman’s situation.

Zordel tweeted (via @PHCSF) to the community asking for a wheelchair for Alana, using the hashtag #EDCDailyNeed. Despite that Project Homeless Connect has only a few thousand people on Twitter, a wheelchair appeared in less than a day.

These efforts are part of a new program dubbed Everyday Connect, which leverages social media to help the homeless in San Francisco. Project Homeless Connect’s team of staff and volunteers typically meet between 10 and 20 homeless children and adults each day with a specific, burning need. Typically, it’s for something as trivial as a hair cut, pair of socks, or spare computer part.

Off the back of this success, Zordel has spent the past year reaching out to technology and civic organizations to promote Everyday Connect.

“I believe that we can use social media to create real change in the lives of our vulnerable population,” she told me. “If I were able to explain to people how the small items in their home storage bins can change a life, they would immediately want to get involved.”

Next week, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee will tweet on the organization’s behalf in an attempt to bolster its following. Sf.citi, a local nonprofit that is working to boost the technology industry involvement with civic projects, has agreed to donate a dollar to Project Homeless Connect for each new Twitter follower or Facebook “like” on the page.

Zordel’s efforts are part of a larger trend of tech helping the homeless in San Francisco.

Tech entrepreneur Doniece Sandoval is working on an ambitious project, Lava Mae, to turn retired city buses into mobile showers.

Marc Roth, who lived in shelters in San Francisco for just over a year, has become a spokesperson of sorts for the homeless community. Roth mastered skills like laser-cutting and 3D printing at TechShop, a membership-based do-it-yourself workshop, and is now a funded hardware entrepreneur. Read his inspiring story in VentureBeat. 

In addition, local web designer Rose Broome recently started a Homeless Innovation meetup group for the tech community to get more involved by building fundraising apps and other technology services.

One of Zordel’s more long-term goals is to support education and job placement. Project Homeless Connect is currently brainstorming ways for homeless people to develop the skills they need to compete for openings at local tech companies. “If they were just given a little training, they could apply,” she said.

Are you involved with the San Francisco tech industry and want to help the homeless? 

  • Zordel is looking for social media experts, who are willing to volunteer to help her spread the word about Everyday Connect. 
  • Follow Project Homeless Connect on Twitter or Facebook and respond/share an #EDCDailyneed
  • Sponsor Roth’s Hike for the Homeless — he’s raising funds for the Learning Shelter, a three-month long accelerator program for homeless youth to learn software and hardware skills. 
  • Attend the next S.F. Homeless Innovation meetup to form groups and discuss ideas for fixing the housing crisis in San Francisco. 

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