Mixtape podcast: Tech’s concern for the homeless

Welcome to the latest episode of TechCrunch Mixtape with Megan Rose Dickey and myself. This week we talk about mental illness within the homeless population, specifically how people can help situations that are typically addressed by police.

Neil Shah, CEO of Concrn, joined us in the studio to talk about the ups, downs and ups again of leading an app that lacks the appeal of many Silicon Valley upstarts.

Billed as the “compassionate alternative to 911,” Concrn allows users to report a homeless person who is experiencing distress due to mental illness. Rather than involving 911, a call to Concrn will alert trained employees who are then dispatched to help de-escalate the situation, helping to ensure their safety — and hopefully keep them out of the system.

“I started working in homeless services; I started helping people get jobs,” Shah tells us. “And one of the things I noticed was that certain people from the homeless community were fully capable — they just needed to get connected to services, connected to job opportunities. Get some training.”

The company has experienced some growing pains in its relatively short life. It tried to partner with the San Francisco Police Department last fall, but the partnership never came to fruition.

“We are on pause [in San Francisco] and we have been since December,” Shah says. “I was disheartened at first because I felt like we failed in some ways there. But what I realized more is that for so many different factors, SF actually is not a good place for us to operate right now.”

So the company turned its attention to the smaller city across the bay.

“We feel like the Oakland community was way more open to something like this in general.”

Shah was also on a panel at Disrupt SF about creating a lifeline in communities. Check it out below. And click play above to listen to this week’s episode.

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