Marcellus watches people walk right by him every day.
He has been homeless, living on the streets of Philadelphia, for about four-five years.
"Being homeless is not easy," he says. "It’s, like, waking up hungry. Going to sleep hungry." And people are often hesitant to give money or to help.
Like many of us, Andrew Siegel walks past homeless individuals like Marcellus every day. When people would ask Seigel for money, he admits he felt uncomfortable. He wanted to help but felt apprehensive about just handing over cash, which didn’t feel like it was enough to really bring about any lasting change. But when he didn’t give anything, that decision bothered him. A lot.
So, he starting thinking of how else to help — and came up with StreetChange.
StreetChange is an app that allows people to make targeted donations to homeless individuals — whether it be food, clothing, toothbrushes, or even haircut vouchers.
Siegel partnered with Dan Treglia, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice, and Michael Brody, president and CEO of the Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania (MHASP) to make it happen.
MHASP outreach teams signed up homeless individuals who wanted to take part and gathered a list of 10-15 items they needed. Each homeless participant was then given a key fob that emits a signal when they are within a 150-foot radius of someone with the app. When StreetChange users are within that range, they receive a notification and can see what items the homeless person has requested. Then they can donate any amount of money (even just $1) toward their wish list.
Food, clothing and a place to shower. This app helps get those who are homeless the basics they lack and the support they need to get off the streets.Posted by Upworthy on Monday, February 20, 2017
Besides supplying necessities, StreetChange empowers people who are homeless because it lets them drive the conversation about what they need and their future.
"Being brought into the community makes a big difference," says Jason Moriber, reputation and influence design chief at Verizon — which has done a lot of work around a number of social issues, including education equality, but is not directly involved with StreetChange. "If some small technology gives someone access to a world that they didn’t have access to before … immediately they are empowered."
When someone feels empowered, it can bring about real change.
In the United Kingdom, a charity called Broadway did a small-scale pilot program where they reached out to homeless people and asked them what they needed to change their lives. Their answers ranged from sneakers to cash for paying off a loan to a camper van. Then, the charity simply gave them the money to buy these things — under the condition that they worked with a personal "broker" to help them come up with a working budget.
13 homeless people agreed to the deal, and by the end, 11 had gotten off the streets, suggesting that a combination of money and direction can help homeless individuals get back on their feet.
Programs such as StreetChange offer the first step toward change by not only addressing immediate needs, but also by giving access to support and services.
StreetChange starts a conversation. "The goal is to have this individual not only pick up their socks today, but to also come back tomorrow. And maybe when they come back tomorrow, maybe we can develop a recovery goal plan with this individual," said Evan Figueroa-Vargas, another MHASP employee.
This builds confidence because a lot of homeless individuals don’t always trust the organizations created to help them, Brody told NewsWorks.
"Sometimes by entering the system, they’ve been forced to do things against their will that they didn’t want to do," he continued. "This is another way to build a relationship with them, to bridge a reason to be talking with each other and spending some time with each other."
Technology, like apps, can be a very powerful vehicle for good.
Moriber says that he thinks many of the technologies needed to give back already exist. For example, he says, if more companies, such as food subscription services or ride-share apps, used their business models and technologies for good, there would be lots of ways to give back and address problems such as food deserts, child hunger, or homelessness.
"Technology has the scale — [or it] enables the scale — to solve many problems if we are willing to implement it that way," says Moriber. "If all these technologies could do just a little bit of that, I think we could make a major change in the world. It would enrich everyone's lives."