How Silicon Valley is changing the way we help the homeless

Evan Howard needed to make giving money easy.
He was in charge of fundraising for one of San Francisco’s oldest and best-known community outreach organizations for hunger and homelessness— Glide Memorial Church. For the past decade, receipts from the offering plate and mail drives had been declining.


Code of Honor: New and Old San Francisco Cultures Unite to Solve an Intractable Problem

In December, Greg Gopman, former CEO of AngelHack, infuriated the public and reinforced tech stereotypes of disconnection and entitlement when he posted a rant on his Facebook page:

“Why the heart of our city has to be overrun by crazy, homeless, drug dealers, dropouts, and trash I have no clue… In downtown SF the degenerates gather like hyenas, spit, urinate, taunt you, sell drugs, get rowdy, they act like they own the center of the city… It’s a burden and a liability having them so close to us.”

SF “HACKtivation” Matches Homeless Nonprofits with Tech Talent

While the tech community continues to be demonized across San Francisco, nearly 100 mostly tech workers acted as angels this weekend by donating their expertise to a dozen homeless nonprofit organizations.

In a format similar to a hackathon, where small teams form to develop software programs overnight, ReAllocate’s HACKtivation for the Homeless paired nonprofit organizations with volunteers to address technical challenges that would otherwise be out of reach for the cash-strapped organizations. “Not everybody is being included in how fast things are changing and the benefits of those changes,” said ReAllocate’s Executive Director Kyle Stewart, who cofounded the event with community organizer Ilana Lipsett. “There are opportunities for technology to help inside these established organizations.”

Hackathon Sends Techies to Meet, Greet, Videotape the Homeless

Filmmaker Ken Fisher was preparing about a hundred tech workers to find, talk to and videotape homeless people in the vicinity of the Twitter building in midtown San Francisco.

“For safety’s sake, we should go out in pairs. … Have a discussion guide with you, and rehearse so you don’t need to read off it,” Fisher said to the group about to leave the social giant’s refurbished mid-Market Street office building (they were, specifically, in Yammer’s office space). “Ask before videotaping. That said, I tend to ask forgiveness rather than permission. You usually get good results either way.”

Hacktivation event seeks ways for tech to help S.F. homeless

Technology whizzes, nonprofit workers and others will converge this weekend in San Francisco to try to cook up new tech-savvy ways to help the homeless in a series of get-togethers organizers are calling Hacktivation for the Homeless.

The projects will be fleshed out during sessions planned for Friday, Saturday and Sunday, but for now they include creating an online store for homeless artists to sell their work and handing video cameras out to homeless people and their neighbors to document their everyday lives.

Hacktivation for the Homeless – Preparation

Pre-HacktivationOn March 28th, 29th, and 30th ReAllocate is hosting the next Hacktivation – a purpose-driven hackathon that connects nonprofits and social impact projects with skilled tech volunteers. Hacktivations begin with a series of pitches for projects, followed by a weekend-long push to make them a reality. This time the event will focus on homelessness in San Francisco.

To ensure that the projects can make a real impact ReAllocate is partnering with local nonprofit organizations devoted to serving the homeless. By having these organizations identify the challenges to be addressed, the Hacktivation will focus on real world problems with achievable solutions. This event marks the beginning of a bimonthly series of events facilitating collaboration on social impact projects and ongoing civic participation.


The nonprofits partners have identified a variety of problems and challenges as well as some possible solutions. Projects include capacity building opportunities to help organizations with their internal technology needs, long term technology projects that work between organizations to help address gaps in the current system, and community engagement opportunities to get directly involved with the local community. A full list of projects is available here.

On March 28th local nonprofits will be presenting the projects they need help with and over the course of the next two days participants will be working closely with them to build the solutions they need.  If you have skills that you want to reallocate, sign up and join the Hacktivation!


ReAllocate’s Hacktivation for the Homeless Partners

Caravan StudiosCode for America, Coit GroupCommunity Housing Partnership, Dev BootcampEpiscopal Community Services, GLIDE, GoodwillHandUp, Highground HackersHospitality House, Innovation Alley, Larkin Street Youth ServicesLava Mae, LyftProject Homeless Connect, SF Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation, Shareable, Social Enterprise Alliance – San Francisco Bay Area ChapterSpotifySt. Anthony FoundationSt. Francis Living RoomTenderloin Housing Clinic, Tenderloin Technology LabYammer, Zenput

Supporting the Development of Solar Technologies in Uganda


In rural Uganda, where electrification is rare, villagers turn to dangerous and costly fuel sources like kerosene, wood, or diesel to provide light or electrical power via generators.  This ongoing expense is a burden that limits the ability of businesses to operate and students to study after the sun sets.  Solar power has the potential to make Ugandan village life safer and healthier while boosting productivity for local businesses and expanding educational opportunities for children.

However as Paola De Cecco knows, if new technologies are introduced to rural areas in developing countries without capable technicians to service them they will never take hold.  Paola is a Senior Lecturer at the Nsamizi Training Institute of Social Development in Uganda and teaches courses intended to provide locals with the technical and business skills to start businesses selling and servicing solar technologies in rural areas.


The electronics that Paola’s students were learning to build were put into casings made of wood.  Unfortunately, this ma

de the electronics look crude and unreliable which kept people from buying them.  Paola discovered that a local company called Village Energy shared both her goal of promoting a viable market for solar electronics and her problem of lack of interest in the finished products.  Village Energy had been casing their electronics in aluminum and experiencing the same skepticism about the quality of their products.

Paola and the founders of Village Energy decided to work together to solve this problem and realized that they could use 3D printers to produce casings that would be durable and look professional.  They purchased one 3D printer and with the help of ReAllocate, were donated two 3D printers from Printrbot.


However, they soon began to experience problems with the printers that required someone to attend to them throughout the long printing process.  They also found that they were having a hard time designing more complex pieces such as latches and hinges.  They realized that they needed help from experts who could teach them how to solve these problems and expand the scope of their 3D printing skills.Paola, along with two volunteers, Frank Kyaligaba and Suleiman, set about learning to use the 3D printers despite the fact that none of them had any formal mechanical engineering training.  They were initially successful and printed attractive casings for a solar device designed to provide light as well as charge a mobile phone.

Having already established a relationship with ReAllocate, Paola and Village Energy knew it could be a resource to provide just the kind of talent they needed.  ReAllocate acts as a marketplace for worthy causes and volunteers with unique skills to find each other and accomplish something truly meaningful together.

ReAllocate was able to connect the group in Uganda to Emi Watanabe and Andrew Maxwell-Parish.  Emi is a product designer and Andrew is a mechanical engineer, both with extensive 3D printing experience and both eager to harness their expertise for the greater good.

With assistance from ReAllocate, Emi and Andrew organized a successful crowdfunding campaign and raised the funds needed to provide hands-on help in Uganda.  On December 23, 2013 Emi and Andrew boarded flights carrying 3D printer replacement parts and prepared to spend three weeks providing Village Energy with the training they need.


A Currency and a Hackathon with a Purpose

The idea for Bay Bucks, a complementary currency for the San Francisco Bay Area, came to Dr. Chong Kee Tan in the wake of the 2008 Financial Crisis.  Complementary currencies exist as a complement to a conventional currency such as the US dollar but are designed to address specific issues.  In this case the goal was to build a resilient and just economy that would promote a sense of community as well as support local businesses.

Having decided that a complementary currency would be of service to the Bay Area community, Dr. Tan and Kendra Shanley co-founded Bay Bucks and began recruiting businesses to participate.  The initial goal was to establish a strong business-to-business network in advance of rolling out Bay Bucks to consumers and they enrolled over 100 business members who actively use Bay Bucks.

To build on their initial successes and prepare Bay Bucks for eventual use by local consumers, Tan and Shanley knew they would need to develop a mobile app that would allow for convenient and secure payment of this digital currency.

ReAllocate and Hacktivations

The Bay Area has an abundance of talent when it comes to something like building a mobile app.  While most of this valuable resource of talent is directed towards for-profit endeavors, some of the programmers who’ve developed these skills have a desire to use their expertise to support causes they believe in.

Connecting world class talent to real world problems is the goal of ReAllocate.  One way that ReAllocate fosters this connection is through their Hacktivations.  A Hacktivation is similar to a Hackathon, but with a few important differences.

At a traditional hackathon people come together to pitch ideas, form into groups around the best ideas, and then write the code to make that idea a reality within a short period of time.  A Hacktivation, on the other hand, is about providing programmers with a way to volunteer that maximizes the value of their contribution and provides organizations like Bay Bucks with the help they need to achieve their goals.

June 8th Hacktivation

On June 8th, 2013 ReAllocate hosted a Hacktivation at which Bay Bucks worked with volunteers Weston McBride and Dona Williams to begin developing their mobile app.  Without wasting any time on pitching ideas, like in a hackathon, the programmers and Bay Bucks co-founders got right to work and made substantial progress.  By the end of the Hacktivation they had the basis of a mobile app, an accomplishment McBride and Williams could be proud of and a significant advancement for Bay Bucks.

A call for ReAllocators

The next step for Bay Bucks is to move the mobile app into beta and begin testing it among its business members.  To do this, they need assistance from iOS Developers.  They are hoping to meet this need at a future Hacktivation or through working with people they connect to through the ReAllocate community.  If you are an iOS developer and would like to help make Bay Bucks’ founders’ vision a reality please contact Dr. Chong Kee Tan directly at [email protected].  If you want to reallocate your skills in some other way, sign up at