Last night’s event was eye opening to say the least. Cheryl, Kristin and I had our heads spinning with ideas. Namely because it was obvious that there is a massive gap between what is being done and what could be done if technology and fresh thinking were at the table.
Prime example is that the city and shelters alike have absolutely no way to track the people that come in and out of their beds or if the programs are actually working. The entire construct of “reserving a bed” is done through paper work in several locations throughout the city. And you can only reserve a bed 6 weeks in advanced, for up to 90 days, and sometimes for only a single night.
The accelerator program Jane was referring too aims to only house people for 10 days, with no clear path afterwards. It is an interesting and innovative program, but still tons of room for improvement. Another massive gap is in the communication between the shelters, orgs and the city. Thirdly, funding is not as much of an issue as the access to the funding to purchase specific items. For example, ECS has been waiting to get pillows for their shelter beds. There’s no way for donors to see what specific items shelters need and purchase that item — you can only give cash and hope for the best.
I see many, many opportunities here to utilize technology to connect shelters with one another, connect shelters and their immediate needs with the public (ie. a giving registry where instead of donating $1 to your local shelter you can buy the actual pillows), tracking of the actual homeless people via cheap cell phones or RFID bracelets, digital paperwork, a way to communicate new programs to people on the street, standing in line virtually rather than outside of the shelters, a central database for people sign up and volunteer, optimizing the jobs for volunteer’s actual skill sets (seems ridiculous to have an engineer sweeping floors at a shelter, doesn’t it?)… the list goes on.
The name of the project is Don’t Look Down SF. This city is stunning, as long as you don’t look down. It’s time to fix that!
Who’s with me?