When someone on the street asks you for money, what's your answer? This app can help.
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Verizon

Marcellus watches people walk right by him every day.

He has been homeless, living on the streets of Philadelphia, for about four-five years.

Screenshot via Verizon.


"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.

A view of the StreetChange app. Screenshot via Verizon.

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."

Targeted donations made via StreetChange go toward buying items such as food, clothing, or haircut vouchers. Screenshot via Verizon.

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.  

Marcellus meets with a MHASP caseworker. He has been meeting with them since May 2016, when he first connected with StreetChange. Screenshot via Verizon.

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.

Screenshot via Verizon.

"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."

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

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This article originally appeared on 03.19.15


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