20 Chronically Homeless Led to Life-Changing Outcomes Through Good Samaritans

Jonathan Kumar
May 8, 2018 · 4 min read

Nearly 7,000 local citizens have equipped the Samaritan app to invest directly into the the lives of Seattle’s homeless

Samaritan, a mobile platform allowing downtown employees and residents to learn about and help people experiencing homelessness, shared today that 20 unsheltered individuals have navigated to housing, employment, or other significant outcomes with the support of Samaritan app users and partners. The social enterprise launched its pilot in September 2016, with nearly 7,000 Seattle residents equipping the free Samaritan app to invest directly into the lives of 500 unsheltered individuals.

People experiencing homelessness are first given an opportunity to share their story and take a portrait with a volunteer or nonprofit partner. The story is then loaded onto a small bluetooth keyfob called a beacon and given to the individual. If a city resident has the Samaritan app and passes within 30 yards of a beacon holder, a notification will pop up on the resident’s phone, enabling them to read the beacon holder’s story and give towards critically-needed goods and services.

The beacon then serves as a digital wallet and ID, giving the person the choice to spend the money with the help of a nonprofit counselor, or directly at a partnered merchant for what they need to survive or leave the street. Redemption partners include Mary’s Place, Millionair Club, Goodwill Seattle, local barbershops, groceries and others. Each month, beacon holders meet with their partnered counselor to recap the last month and target what’s needed for the month ahead. 20 early beacon holders have reported that newfound relationships with counselors and Samaritan app users plus financial resources have led them to housing, employment, or other life-changing outcomes. Newly-housed beacon holder Nicole S. calls the beacon “the first time in seven years people have seen me for who I am, not what I look like or where I’ve come from.” Nicole says the beacon has led to housing and education opportunities because of people who said hello to her or supported her through the app.

Shawn G., another beacon holder, received a job at Safeco Field through just $50 — $40 to hire a career consultant for two hours (who typically charged $125/hr for her time) and $10 for a food handler’s permit. Charles C. used his beacon to meet nutritional and clothing needs and chose to have one-on-ones with a counselor each month until the meetings resulted in a housing placement. The same outcome occurred with Michael M., who cited the support from city residents as “the way I kept myself pointed in the right direction”.

Samaritan recognizes the uncertainty many residents face when confronting homelessness daily. Founder Jonathan Kumar recalls watching a man beg for 20 minutes at the corner of 6th and Columbia, with not a single car or person passing by acknowledging he was there. “I believe that if, for one second, people could cut through their perceptions and get to this person’s true need, with a simple and truly effective way to respond, the majority of those people passing by would have done something. Samaritan exists to provide this response.” City-going app users now invest over $2,500 per month into Samaritan beacon holders, a number that’s growing.

Samaritan’s pilot was licensed and funded by Vulcan, as part of Paul Allen’s initiatives to reduce homelessness. The city has yet to be involved. With an estimated savings of $40,000 per person per year that leaves the street, Samaritan has received preorders for its platform in New York City and Austin. Samaritan hopes to open its platform for use in any city, but will remain focused on Seattle this summer. “We want to grow our unit economics and service delivery here, focusing on metrics like new income per beacon holder, percentage of beacon holders introduced to a life-changing relationship, and others,” says Kumar. “We’re seeing unsheltered individuals elevate themselves from the street, given simple financial resources and relational guidance.”


Beacon Holder Alumni — Nicole S.

Beacon Holder Alumni — Michael M.

Beacon Holder Alumni — Charles C.

Current Beacon Holder — “Raven”

Current Beacon Holder — Michelle B.

Current Beacon Holder — Janice W.

Mary’s Place, Day Center Coordinators — Zaneta Reid and Kristen Hiatt

St. Vincent De Paul, Director of Marketing — Jim McFarland

Millionair Club, Senior Director of Programs — Angele Leaptrot

Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission, CEO — Jeff Lilley (phone only)

Vulcan, Program Lead — Paul Butler

Samaritan Merchant, Manu’s Bodega — Manu Alfau

Samaritan Merchant, Army Navy Surplus — Davina Schaloum

Samaritan Volunteer — Josh Zellers

Samaritan App User — Zian Dinh

Samaritan App User — Joe Goldberg

Faith Community Partner, Open Home — Caleb Kytonen

Corporate Partner, TUNE — Hilary Robinson

Samaritan Chief of Staff & Operations — Jessica McCoy

Request interviews through Jessica (jmc@samaritan.city / 502–718–7878).


Seattle-based Samaritan exists to enable city residents to learn the stories of and invest in people struggling through homelessness. Small bluetooth beacons are given to people experiencing homelessness, such that citygoers with the Samaritan app can invest directly in their lives. The beacon holder can spend funds at partnered merchants or with a nonprofit counselor. Learn more at www.samaritan.city or via a short 80-second film.

The “Samaritan” app is also free and available for use on iPhone and Android. Beacon are available for volunteers and registered nonprofits by contacting chris@samaritan.city. Corporate opportunities are available through jason@samaritan.city.

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Samaritan beacon holders with team members Jonathan, Jason, Andrey, and Jessica

Samaritan Journal

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