Two-and-a-half years ago, Rose Broome had a moment that most San Franciscans are all too familiar with. She passed a homeless woman on the streets, but didn’t know what the best way to help her would be. Most people might brush that thought aside, but Broome didn’t.
“People are frustrated and confused. Then people who are homeless feel invisible or they feel like people don’t care about them,” she said. “But I know a lot of people who care. They just don’t always know how to help.”
For Broome, it was just the start of a longer journey as a social entrepreneur. She partnered with San Francisco nonprofits like Project Homeless Connect and opened a crowdfunding site called HandUp where people could fund specific needs for specific homeless people.
Since HandUp launched, the site has raised $886,000 so far for homeless people, mostly in San Francisco. On the site, moms are asking for funding for diapers. A veteran named Adam is raising a few thousand dollars for dental work. Another mother named Gladys, who lost both of her sons to unsolved homicides, is raising money to fix the van she lives in. Social workers and case managers at HandUp’s partner organizations make sure that clients are able to get what they asked for.
But one of the most commonly requested features from donors was gift cards that people could give out directly on the street to people they pass by every day. Broome and the team began testing $25 gift cards out that homeless people could redeem at Project Homeless Connect for food or other goods.
“Did people even want them?” she asked. “The response has been really positive. Not every single person wants it. That’s OK. But the majority of people that are given the gift cards were excited about it.”
Now the company is officially launching them for everyone. You can grab one online here by filling out your address, where the company will mail your cards. Google is matching gift cards dollar for dollar and you’ll get an e-mail when your card is redeemed.
Broome says the gift cards work positively in two ways. They provide donors with more ways to give, but they’re also a way to encourage the city’s homeless population to get in touch with case workers who can connect them with more programs and support.
Broome is hoping that later on the company can get more deeply involved in civic tech by building systems that city governments can rely on to manage benefits for their ever-changing homeless populations. The company has raised $850,000 in seed funding so far from investors like Marc Benioff, Eric Ries and SV Angel.
“We don’t have a unified database of the homeless population in many cities, so every time they show up at a new non-profit or government center, social workers have to do a full intake all over again,” she said. “There’s a lot of low-hanging fruit here and so much more to build. Some of our really big goals involve not only distributing private money, but also making distributing government benefits more efficient as well.”