May 15, 2019
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Steal This Idea: A more personal way to help homeless individuals

Philadelphia’s StreetChange app uses Bluetooth to connect donors with their neighbors who are struggling with homelessness.

Homeless individuals in Philadelphia have a new digital resource. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Editor’s note: The Renewal Project knows that good ideas start at the local level. From time to time, we will share some of our favorite ideas from across the country that you can explore in your own communities. Have an idea you want us to share? Let us know at info@therenewalproject.com.

Residents of Philadelphia have an ingenious way to help homeless individuals. StreetChange is a crowdfunding app, originally created by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and funded by the Barra Organization.

The app is used on two ends: By homeless individuals who need help and by people looking to offer help.

Homeless individuals work with a case worker from the Mental Health Association of South Eastern Pennsylvania to create a wishlist of things they need, from small to big, such as a new pair of socks, a toothbrush, and a warm coat. They are given a small Bluetooth chip to keep on their person that will ping their location and associated wishlist to the app.

The good samaritans who have downloaded the app will receive a notification anytime they are near a participant with a wishlist. They can see a picture and bio of the person, view their wishlist, and use PayPal to fund an entire item, like a hairbrush, or help chip in funds for a bigger ticket item, like a pair of sturdy boots.

To pick up the funded items, homeless individuals will meet up with their case worker again. The requirement to meet with a caseworker gives homeless individuals the opportunity to access other resources, like health care, housing opportunities, and employment training.

“The goal is to have this individual not only pick up their socks today, but to also come back tomorrow. And when they come back tomorrow, maybe we can develop a recovery goal plan with this individual,” Evan Figueroa-Vargas of the Mental Health Association of South Eastern Pennsylvania said in an interview.

StreetChange also helps facilitate a connection between people.

“It creates a conversation, and one conversation builds on another conversation, and you’ve developed a relationship. I think people see need in their community, and they want to help,” says Dan Treglia, President of StreetChange

The app is available to download for iOS and Android for Philadelphia residents.

Caitlin Fairchild

Caitlin Fairchild is the deputy editor of The Renewal Project.