June 30, 2016 | Blog

SF Homeless Project – How Tech Nonprofits are Building Scalable Solutions

This week over 70 media publications banded together as part of the SF Homeless Project, a foray into solutions-focused coverage. The project aims to shine light on the issue, and spur change in the right direction. Homelessness is an unwavering problem in San Francisco, and has been for the past twenty years. In 2015, the city counted 6,686 homeless in San Francisco. Though in reality, the number may be much higher. Tent cities and streets lined with sleeping homeless are a familiar image to all of us at Fast Forward. We stand in support of San Francisco Chronicle’s initiative to bring this issue to the forefront of the national conversation.

At Fast Forward we help nonprofit startups leverage technology to eradicate the key causes of homelessness. While some problems cannot be solved by markets, tech nonprofits can help. Homelessness is one of them, as is poverty, inadequate access to housing and healthcare, and hunger. These social issues exacerbate the SF homeless problem. Tech nonprofits, however, impact under-resourced communities in a way that for-profit companies can’t. 

According to the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, the leading causes of homelessness in metropolitan cities are lack of affordable housing, unemployment, poverty, and mental illness. Several of our alumni built incredible technology solutions to these root issues of homelessness. These are the tech nonprofits you need to know.

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One Degree – Yelp! for social services

It’s no secret that San Francisco is the most expensive city in the country. Resources to find affordable housing were scant until One Degree launched its online platform, which is like a Yelp! for social services. Social services resources used to live solely in big, fat binders that sat in places like police stations and were only accessible in person. In contrast, One Degree puts all of this information online, enabling low-income families to find resources they need like housing, food, and after school programs. The platform has already helped over 100,000 individuals in the Bay Area find the community resources they need. One Degree’s auxiliary platform, One Home, has helped over 10,000 Bay Area residents search for affordable housing. Now, One Degree is also available in LA County.

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Concrn – The mobile alternative to 911

Believe it or not, 80 percent of all calls received by SF police dispatch result from mental health problems, not crime. However, police intervention is not always the best resolution. Furthermore, a call to 911 might result in a homeless person ending up in a jail cell, rather than being connected with a shelter or health clinic. With the Concrn mobile app, you can submit a location-stamped report when you witness someone experiencing a mental health crisis in the street. Simply pull out the app, create a report, and Concrn dispatches its crisis responders, who de-escalate situations using compassionate response. Crisis responders connect individuals with the housing and mental health resources they need to get back on their feet – not jail cells. Concrn is a critical player in solving the SF homeless crisis.

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SIRUM – Redistributing unused medicine

Every year $5 billion in perfectly good prescription medications get flushed down the drain or burned in incinerators. Meanwhile, 50 million Americans avoid filling their prescriptions due to prohibitive cost. SIRUM built a tech solution to fix this, and now connects low-income communities to affordable prescription drugs. This year SIRUM helped launch California’s first drug donation pharmacy, Better Health Pharmacy, in partnership with Santa Clara County. The pharmacy sources 100% of its medicine through SIRUM’s donation platform, and fills prescriptions at low to zero cost to patients. Read the story of how inability to afford prescription mental health medication almost led a Bay Area woman to homelessness.

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CareerVillage.org – Your on-demand career coach 

In the average public school there is one guidance counselor to every 500 kids. That means each student gets a mere 8 minutes with a counselor each year. Can you imagine figuring out what you want to do with your life in just 8 minutes? Career Village.org helps students in low-income communities get answers to their most pressing career questions. The platform crowdsources career advice from experienced professionals to advise students on how to navigate their future career paths and achieve goals. So far they’ve helped over 2M students and have over 10,000 professional volunteers on the platform.

If we want to conquer jarring social problems like homelessness, we need to start from the bottom. While San Francisco is home to the best tech talent, thousands of residents remain sleeping on the streets. We can equip all communities with the tools they need to thrive by building more scalable nonprofit businesses that address issues like education, poverty, and housing.