How tech is being used to combat homelessness

Some charities may face unique challenges when it comes to using tech and digital to improve service delivery. But this doesn’t mean it can’t help.

Chrissy Chiu | 9th Jan 20
How tech is being used to combat homelessness

In the depths of winter, many homelessness charities have struggled with the ever-increasing numbers of rough sleepers and homeless people. Just this past Christmas, homeless charity Shelter reported that 280,000 people had no home on Christmas Day.

“As well as those facing serious ill-health or even death sleeping rough on our streets this winter, there are thousands of families trapped in grotty emergency B&Bs, with no space for children to sit and eat, let alone play. This is the grim truth our new government must confront and do something radical to change,” said Polly Neate, Shelter CEO.

Despite the winter crunch, digital leaders across homelessness charities are doing more with technology.


Shelter coordinates digital and public messaging

A voice of authority from the charity sector, Shelter has been at the forefront of tackling homelessness. Using macroeconomic trends and big data, the charity turned its research into statistics to appeal to supporters. The homelessness charity also maximises opportune moments to get the message out.

At last year’s Civil Society Media’s Charity Technology Conference, Stephanie Borne Head of Shelter’s Digital Fundraising and Kimberly Carter, Media Manager, explained how vivid storytelling can increase fundraising firepower. Eschewing traditional ‘slick’ advertising the digital leaders prefer authentic user experiences. The digital leadership duo hosted a session on exploring how they have pounced on moments to increase their advertising coverage using Facebook adverts when Ms Neate has appeared in public.


> Read More: How digital is transforming service delivery for homelessness


Helping those in London brace for the cold weather

Embracing the recycling movement and helping to clothe those less fortunate, co-founders Varun Bhanot and Anisha Seth from Unhoused use technology to change the perception of homelessness. The duo has been developing a solution to make fabrics less permeable to dirt and sweat, helping to combat the ‘dirty’ appearance that many homeless people face. The pair have also founded the digital fundraising platform.  Unique amongst many matched donations schemes, the co-founders use social media, images, and emails to show exactly where supporter donations have impact.


Crisis explores new ways to collaborate

Charity digital leaders at Crisis are no strangers to tech for good. In 2017, the charity upgraded its online presence and revamped its website. Putting mobile first and simplifying the donation process, digital teams at the charity launched the site with the renewed purpose of demonstrating the impact of homelessness.


> Read More: Cisco and Crisis seek tech ideas to help the homeless


Since then, the digital journey has gone even further. Shelter has partnered with the social enterprise Hoodies for the Homeless. Through matched giving, gift-givers can purchase a hoodie, with a similar item of warm clothing being donated to someone in need.

Looking ahead at new innovations, Crisis has also partnered with Cisco, the software company.  Since 2018, the partners have hosted a hackathon for university students and a sponsored walk.

Crisis and Cisco are now calling for new ideas on how tech can be used for good, focusing on connecting homeless people with jobs; digital inclusiveness; and process improvements.


Innovation from overseas

Noted for the vast numbers of homeless people in California, San Francisco based charity St. Anthony’s partnered with Zendesk, the cloud-based tech platform. Between the two organisations, SF-Link was born. The site is an online, mobile-friendly platform helping to connect homeless people with local help. The site is very basic, allowing less modern mobile phones to search by location and distance to help. Individuals with no fixed address can also leave contact details on the site, so that prospective employers can follow up.


> Watch: How AI is helping small charities drive more impact