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San Francisco’s Tech Talent Lends a Hand to Help the Homeless

April 8, 2014
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San Francisco’s Tech Talent Lends a Hand to Help the Homeless
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Coders gather to build apps and websites that will benefit the city's poor and those that serve them.

Because they want to concentrate their funds and efforts on helping people, nonprofits often have little money or expertise to devote to developing sleek websites, mobile apps, or other tools that draw on the latest technology.

That’s why ReAllocate, a nonprofit that organizes San Francisco’s tech talent to volunteer for the city’s needy, set up its “Hacktivation for the Homeless” from March 28 through 30. Almost 100 software engineers turned up to work on the tech problems of 12 nonprofits serving the homeless of San Francisco.

Among the requests? Larkin Street Youth Services wanted a mobile app that would keep the homeless teens it serves up-to-date on services and allow them reserve beds in its shelter. The Homeless Prenatal Program wanted to enable patients to register online, rather than by filling out paperwork at the office. And the Homeless Employment Collaborative (HEC) wanted to be able to track the people it serves and measure the effectiveness of its programs.

HEC executive director Karen Gruneisen told Josh Wolf of Shareable, “After folks have graduated from our program and gotten a job, they are no longer part of our program and they don’t have a lot of incentive to stick around and stay in touch with us. A smartphone with continued data service in exchange for completing a quarterly survey with status on employment and housing can be just the incentive that we need.”

The nonprofits pitched their needs to the software engineers, then the coders got to work. This hackathon, however, had a unique twist: Instead of working nonstop (which is typical of hackathons), these tech workers were encouraged to take a break from coding and go out on the streets and talk to homeless people, filming their interviews if possible.

Illana Lipsett of ReAllocate told Nellie Bowles of Recode.net, “It’s about fostering a level of empathy between the tech workers, the nonprofits, the homeless. Often, it’s just about creating opportunities for people to interact.”

Organizers hope events like this Hacktivation will ease the growing tensions between tech workers in booming San Francisco and the poor people that the growth has left behind.

MORE: Meet the Undocumented Immigrants Who Created An App to Press for Immigration Reform

 

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