Homeless people were shutoff from the stream of information that could provide services to them. For a myriad of reasons. However, smartphones has proven that technology has the potential to bridge the gap between people in need and the services that are available for them. Some may scoff at the idea of a homeless person would even have a cell phone, but it the Internet is no longer a luxury, it's a public utility, and access to it is a necessity.
Homelessness is a national issue. Every city, large or small has grapples with the issue. Statistics vary from city to city, but people are dying on the streets every year. There are concerned and innovative people out there who are looking for answers with technology. In 2011, 60% of homeless youth had a smartphone, and it's safe to assume that number has only increased across all homeless age groups. Below are a few organizations that I think are providing a valuable service:
Though the founders of this 501(c) company, Caleb Phillips and Ethan Welty, do not mention homeless people on the the website, it's a great resource for ALL urban foragers — that just may include homeless people. Falling Fruit uses an interactive map to lead people to urban areas such as public parks and city streets that contain fruit trees, vegetables and other edibles. So far the site has identified over 1,798 different edibles in over a million locations.
A faith-based organization, Our Calling is “A simple solution to a complex problem,” providing a selection of homeless services such as addiction recovery centers, resources for domestic violence victims, food resources, medical care, and more. They know that the problem of homelessness can’t be solved with just a bed and a meal, but at least those in need won't be spending more resources finding daily needs. Our Calling users have access to services with just a tap on the phone. Currently Our Calling is based in the Dallas area but like all good ideas, it will spread to other cities. Right now this app only works in Dallas but, plans are underway to provide this service nationally.
Speaking of good ideas, Street Change builds a country-wide web to service the homeless. This organization uses existing services such as housing, case management, employment training and behavioral health services and brings them all under one umbrella for centralized access. Street Change clients — those in need of services — carry a beacon around that emits a signal over 150 feet. Then when donators access the app, they get a list of people around them and can contact the service provider for whatever is needed, and the service provider will accomodate. If no signal is picked up donators get a list of people in the general area. After reading the profile of the people in need, including why/how they became homeless, donors can also donate money via PayPal. Items donated includes clothing, toiletries, and more based on the clients' needs. Again, only available in select locations, but with plans to expand in the future. Get a better idea of how it works by watching this video.
Though these services may not be available locally anytime soon, there's no shortage of creative innovative people willing to take on the challenge to help those in need. In time, people everywhere will be able to have access to services that they did not have before — hopefully sooner rather than later. We are heading to a time when services like these could be ubiquitous, providing the time and resources needed to address the root causes of homelessness in more meaningful ways.
Technology is not a luxury anymore, and technology alone will never end homelessness. But by connecting people in need with daily necessities, services — even things such as showers and laundry — helps maintain their dignity. It's hard to argue that that's not a good place to start.
Thomas Russell is a high school information technology teacher and retired Army Signal Corps soldier. He is the founder of SEMtech (Student Engagement and Mentoring in Technology) and an Advisory Board Member of Educating Children of Color. His hobbies include writing, photography and hiking. Contact Thomas via Russell’s Room on Facebook, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and his photography at thomasholtrussell.zenfolio.com.