Survive the Streets is using crowdfunding to break the vicious cycle of homelessness.
The organization launched its “directed giving” site this morning that connects people living on the brink of homelessness with donors who help them purchase specific goods and services.
“With most non-profits you don’t know where your money is going,” said founder Michael Grabham in an interview with VentureBeat. “They traditionally involve pieces of red tape to get simple things done, but those simple things can be ultra-critical to keeping someone in a home environment.”
Survive the Streets first started on Thanksgiving Day in 1999. Grabham and his wife Patti Dunn decided to bring some of their leftovers to a group of homeless men living down the street. The men told them that they also needed socks, so Grabham got them socks.
This initial gesture grew in scope over the years, as friends and family joined them in raising money, making food, and purchasing gear like sleeping bags, gloves, and backpacks for the homeless of Seattle on Thanksgiving. Survive the Streets developed into a community-wide event with participation from local outreach organizations, corporate sponsors, non-profits, and schools.
Grabham is a “startup guy” who has spent his entire career in tech. Once Survive the Streets gianed mometum, he saw an opportunity to leverage his Internet expertise to have an even bigger impact.
“We began asking ourselves why we couldn’t do this everyday — why couldn’t you help someone with specific needs any day, from anywhere?” he said. “It is really tough to get out of the system once you are completely in surviving based on public funds and services. We are trying to bridge that gap and prevent people from going into the death spiral of being homeless.”
The people featured on Survive the Streets are suggested and verified by local organizations who have interacted with them in some way. They share basic information about themselves, their situation, and their specific need.
For example, Reina is a single mother with two children living in a shelter. Her car, which she relies on to get to work and take her children to school, is broken. On Survive the Streets, she asked for a few hundred dollars to fix her car.
Grabham said that this is a perfect example of what Survive the Streets is trying to do — help people overcome an immediate obstacle that prevents them from supporting themselves and their family.
Other examples include money to pay the security deposit for an apartment, tuition money to pay for an online education program, or help with crippling medical bills.
Once the goal is reached, local organizations help procure and deliver the goods/services.
“As a society, we haven’t figured out a way to help people efficiently,” Grabham said. “Survive the Streets is hyper-local — we are trying to keep that community feel because you get a different feeling when you know you are helping someone in your neighborhood. But since I am a startup guy, I want to think how we can do this at scale. Our goal is to be in every major community in the U.S., and allow other people to take the system we have built and use it in their own communities.”
AP found that four out of 5 U.S. adults struggle with joblessness, near poverty, or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives. This is a sign of “deteriorating economic security” and the widening gap between the rich and the poor, and one of the biggest impacts is on children.
It is a national and systemic problem, and Survive the Streets is taking a grassroots approach to addressing it. Sometimes the smallest things can make the biggest impact. The explosion of crowdfunding and the growth of online marketplaces has created unprecedented opportunities to connect people with needs with people who can fulfill them.
Another trend Grabham identified is donors want to see where their money is going. Younger generations want to read stories and see their direct impact, rather than writing a check to a large organization.
Survive the Streets isn’t the only organization leveraging crowdfunding to help people in need — Benevolent, GoFundMe, Razoo and others are also building platforms along these same lines. Grabham said Survive the Streets stands out for its explicit focus on homelessness.
Once people donate, they are encouraged to share that cause around social networks and solicit financial contributions from their friends.
At launch Survive the Streets is active in Seattle, but is raising money on Razoo to continue developing its technology platform and expand nationwide by partnering with local nonprofits.