Nonprofit Volunteers Help Address Homelessness

By Michael Polce | July 9, 2019 | Nonprofit, Pro Bono, Volunteering

Salesforce employees volunteer their skills at ShelterTech’s “datathon” workshop at the Salesforce office
Salesforce employees volunteer their skills at ShelterTech’s “datathon” workshop at the Salesforce office

Despite tech companies contributing to San Francisco’s strong economic growth over the past 20 years, the combination of rising housing costs and home availability shortages has led to a continuous increase in poverty and homelessness. A report from the office of San Francisco Mayor London Breed showed that from 2017 to 2018, the city saw a 17% increase of homeless individuals from 6,858 to 8,011.

Since our founding twenty years ago, Salesforce has committed to giving back to our community. We pioneered the 1-1-1 model, which “dedicates 1% of Salesforce’s equity, 1% of Salesforce’s product and 1% of Salesforce employees’ time back to communities around the world.” The third 1% is the driving factor behind our efforts to take “volunteering time off” (VTO) to become stakeholders in our respective communities.

Although the 1-1-1 model was foundational to our history, today, Salesforce.org is a dedicated team within Salesforce that delivers technology to nonprofits, educational institutions, and philanthropic organizations so they can connect with others and do more good. As the heart of Salesforce, we are committed to helping our customers make the best impact for this world – including a total of over 3M+ employee volunteer hours.

Especially in San Francisco, one significant challenge that volunteers are tackling is leveraging technology solutions to help empower the community around issues of homelessness and poverty.

ShelterTech is one such organization tackling this issue. This San Francisco-based nonprofit is comprised entirely of volunteers and aims to solve the biggest technology challenges faced by those experiencing homelessness.

I first heard of ShelterTech* when I was searching for volunteer opportunities that aligned with our company’s core values and utilized technology to address San Francisco’s homelessness problem in an innovative way. Inspired by ShelterTech’s mission, I joined the nonprofit with the original intent to wisely use my VTO. I have been volunteering at ShelterTech for several months now, and I could not be more humbled and grateful to be involved with such a driven organization that connects people to underserved communities through technology.

ShelterTech and our Ohana understand and value the transformative power and responsibility of using technology for good, and some of us also regularly volunteer at ShelterTech and have worked on ShelterTech’s programs such as ShelterConnect (a free wifi service installed at shelters and transitional housing centers) and Casey (a case management self-service solution that guides at-risk individuals through common problems associated with homelessness).

Our Salesforce Ohana also actively participates in other initiatives as well. Faithforce, a Salesforce employee-led and employee-organized Employee Resource Group has sent hundreds of volunteers to work with those in need in San Francisco at organizations like San Francisco City Impact and Chabad of SF, and has been closely aligned with ShelterTech. Marc and Lynne Benioff have also donated $30 million to launch the UCSF Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative, which will start efforts to work with organizations in San Francisco to help underserved communities.

An Ambitious Endeavor

Meet AskDarcel, ShelterTech’s premier San Francisco-based online directory, now in public beta and will be officially released to the underserved community later this year. With over 1,700 services, 360 organizations, and 200 categories, AskDarcel is the definitive platform of homeless resources and services for case managers and the communities that they support.

To make sure that the data is maintained and up to date, ShelterTech hosts periodic public workshop events called “datathons” that bring together volunteers from organizations and the community at large to help update the information for these resources on the website.

These volunteers work alongside community representatives (CRs) who are either currently homeless, or have previously been homeless to research and make improvements such as validating phone numbers, verifying a resource’s website description, correcting a resource’s address and location, and fixing broken links are some of the tasks that take place.

To date, over 200 volunteers have helped support this effort.

Nonprofit Volunteering with a “Data Hackathon” or “Datathon”

Recently, ShelterTech had the opportunity to host a “datathon” with 16 Salesforce employees held at our San Francisco headquarters. The event was well-received, and these volunteers were able to discover a different, first-hand perspective of San Francisco’s homelessness challenge.

At the datathon, ShelterTech spoke with Julia Kim, a Salesforce employee, to learn about her background in volunteering for various causes and her views on homelessness.

Julia previously volunteered at a number of nonprofit organizations, including most recently at an eco-agriculture farm in Costa Rica focused on environment conservation efforts. She participated in the datathon because she resonated with ShelterTech’s mission to make an impact on the perpetual problem of homelessness in San Francisco using technology as a driving force for change. Through partnering with Marilyn, a community representative who regularly works with ShelterTech, she learned about the Obama phone program which has helped 20 million financially-strapped Americans get a free cell phone and minutes and enables them to access to ShelterTech services.

In a reflection of current economic hardships across the United States, Julia remarked that there is a striking difference in the accessibility to shelters for the homeless community in New York compared to San Francisco. Through the datathon, she was surprised to learn the number of resources available to the homeless community in San Francisco and saw the value in the services ShelterTech provides to connect those who are homeless in San Francisco to available shelters. For this reason, Julia supports solutions such as AskDarcel.org and was happy to have worked with Marilyn, on updating contact data on the website.

How Volunteers Can Help

In the mission to meet the needs of individuals experiencing homelessness, ShelterTech and AskDarcel thrive on the kindness and support of volunteers. If you’re interested in volunteering or have your organization partner with ShelterTech in an upcoming Datathon, contact ShelterTech.

Finally, it takes a village to keep the lights on at ShelterTech. Did you know that community representatives are compensated for their time working with volunteers at a datathon? If you might be able to help ShelterTech raise $500 to cover the costs of future datathons, please donate.

Further Resources

*The views expressed in this article are solely of the volunteers, and not representative of Salesforce as a whole.