StreetChange is a mobile crowdfunding application that allows Philadelphians to donate money toward necessities requested by street homeless individuals. The program fulfills 3 primary goals:
1. Engaging street homeless adults who have been resistant to services.
2. Enabling Philadelphians to help homeless individuals fulfill short-term needs.
3. Building a stronger relationship between homeless service providers and homeless individuals to facilitate transitions into better healthcare and permanent housing.
The StreetChange crowdsourcing platform empowers and educates the public about homelessness while leveraging investments in homeless services. StreetChange addresses two concurrent issues: rising street homelessness and the ethical dilemma many people feel when solicited by panhandlers. The number of street homeless individuals in Philadelphia reached a record high of 705 people in January of 2016, and they are likely to be homeless for long periods of time and at high risk for physical and behavioral health problems. At the same time, many people who live and work in Center City want to provide assistance, but worry about how money they give will be spent. Seventy-three percent said they would give more if they knew how their donation was being spent, and 63% would increase donations if they went toward permanent housing.
StreetChange is the first platform of any kind that empowers the public to fulfill someone’s short-term needs while also facilitating long-term care, and no other programs target homeless individuals who need a little extra help connecting to services that will lead to better healthcare and housing. It allows for a personal connection –donors learn about who they are helping and they receive alerts when items they’ve donated to are picked up – without requiring any additional engagement. Existing websites offer opportunities to make cash donations that fail to eliminate the ethical dilemmas or connect people to the services that facilitate long-term systematic changes.
StreetChange has the potential to transform how donors help people in need and how homeless service organizations engage potential clients, and we are excited to scale and expand this program. We have institutional and financial support from Philadelphia service providers and foundations, most notably the Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania and the Barra Foundation, and have received the support of local government and nonprofit leaders. We continue to meet with these stakeholders as we plan for a larger release, and we are engaging donors and service providers in cities around the country so we can bring StreetChange to them. In addition, StreetChange has been the feature of several media stories, including WHYY and the Philadelphia Citizen, and is the subject of an upcoming documentary.
StreetChange has received institutional and financial support from the Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania and received a Catalyst Grant from the Barra Foundation. We are working with both of these partners as well as other service providers, Councilman Allan Domb, and the Office of Homeless Services to bring StreetChange to scale. These efforts are part of a robust business plan that, in conjunction with additional fundraising efforts and revenue sources, will solidify StreetChange’s role in serving Philadelphia’s neediest residents.
StreetChange is likely to succeed in large part because of its replicability. It is a fundamentally low-demand program leveraging existing resources – the good will of people who want to help those in need and service providers who understand the needs of individuals experiencing homelessness. StreetChange provides essential connections between donors and service providers, and because these resources exist in cities throughout the United States, we expect StreetChange to expand and thrive.
Our small pilot revealed extraordinary enthusiasm among both homeless clients and donors, and has also fundamentally improved life for some participants. Despite efforts to limit enrollment, 42 homeless individuals participated in StreetChange and more than 100 people downloaded and used the application. Fulfilling the long-term goal of helping participants obtain stability, two StreetChange clients are no longer sleeping outside as a direct result of their engagement with the program. We will continue to track these measures, with an emphasis on donations and long-term engagement to produce the stability we hope to see for people engaged in our program.
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