A formerly homeless man who taught himself how to use laser cutters and CNC machines while living in a shelter now wants to give that kind of opportunity to others.
Marc Roth, who now runs his own laser-cutting business, launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise $60,000 for the “Learning Shelter,” a new program for the San Francisco’s homeless to learn hardware skills.
It’s been a whirlwind year for the Learning Shelter’s founder Marc Roth. In 2011, Roth was living in his car and in various homeless shelters around downtown San Francisco. But that all changed when he walked into TechShop, a membership-based do-it-yourself workshop, which provides tools, equipment, and classes. Roth, who originally hails from Las Vegas, first heard about TechShop after he spotted a flier in the trash with the slogan “Build Your Dreams.”
After a year at TechShop, he was able to start a hardware company of his own called “SF Laser.” He not only supports himself but is employing several other people now, too. In January, he was invited to Washington D.C. to advise a coalition of city mayors, including San Francisco’s Ed Lee, about actionable solutions to homelessness.
Above: Marc Roth and Mayor Ed Lee in D.C.
Roth is aware of dozens of hardware startups that are hiring, including his own. He regularly interfaces with the local homeless and believes that the right program can make all the difference.
“If they [the homeless] were just given a little training, they could apply,” Project Homeless Connect‘s Kara Zordel said in a recent interview with VentureBeat.
TechShop’s chief executive Mark Hatch believes that anyone can learn maker skills and land a job. So TechShop is currently offering free membership and training to veterans, many of whom are homeless. “One of our objectives is to work with both veterans and the homeless, and turn them into entrepreneurs,” Hatch told VentureBeat recently.
MORE: Read our full “innovation within and for the homeless community” series.
After he first joined TechShop (using his last $50 for a membership) Roth recalls throwing himself into design with such gusto that he was able to master CNC machining, laser cutting, and 3D printing in a matter of months.
How will the Learning Shelter work?
When I first met Roth, and wrote about his journey from ‘homeless to hacker‘, we discussed his initial ideas for the Learning Shelter. Roth envisioned a venue with shower facilities (a desperate need in the city), accommodation, computers, 3D printers, and an openness to any and all ideas.
He has stayed true to this initial vision, but his thinking has evolved. He now intends start small by reaching out to four potential students from the homeless community. These four will be provided with free accommodation for 90 days. They will be expected to attend an intensive schedule of classes every day.
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To help him run the Learning Shelter, Roth has recruited a board of nine people, primarily developers and entrepreneurs. The board is also helping him track down product designers and makers to teach the recruits. Students will receive a free membership at TechShop for the full 90 days and they will receive 20 free classes.
Above: Marc Roth at TechShop
“We’re testing the model first and debugging it,” said Roth, who intends to raise another round of funding to support a larger class. Roth is currently in touch with St. Anthony’s SF and other shelters. He has asked them to nominate homeless people over the age of 18 who are showing an interest in computers or hardware.
“I’m looking for people like me,” Roth explained by phone. “People who can demonstrate in an interview that they are eager to learn.”
Local organizations and nonprofits, including the research center Institute for the Future, social impact network ReAllocate and the San Francisco mayor’s office, are publicly supporting the campaign.
At the end of the 90 days, Roth will reach out to his network to connect students with jobs. He is planning to hire one or two folks for his own startup, SF Laser.
“Marc [Roth] is a genuine, humble, tenacious fellow that I am honored to call a friend and be on his board,” Learning Shelter board-member and self-described “culture hacker” Mike Zuckerman said. “I can think of nothing more worthwhile than to continue to help him realize his dream of helping others realize their own potential.”
Roth hopes to launch the Learning Shelter on March 15. Donate funds on Indiegogo or contact the campaign organizers to volunteer your time. Join the mailing list at thelearningshelter.org.
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