Better Together: ShelterTech’s Participation in the Benetech ServiceNet Pilot Program
The question of how to make life easier, better and more humane for those experiencing poverty and homelessness is, in many ways, huge and overwhelming. It is a problem for which few people want to take responsibility — an issue which feels like it should be everyone else’s to deal with. Our work at ShelterTech aims to play a part in answering that question and take a little bit of that responsibility. We leverage the specific skill sets of our creative and committed volunteers in ways which directly help the people who need it most. We have spent more than three years listening to and hearing from people with lived experience of homelessness to develop the most useful, targeted and impactful technology tools possible for them.
So far, we have wired 10 shelters and supportive housing facilities with WiFi and created step-by-step paper guides to help guide people through through the most confusing, scary parts of being transitionally homeless, as well as developed a digital directory of human services and resources in the City of San Francisco.
No one organization can expect to do this kind of work alone. Over the past three years, we have understood that all our best, most significant work is done by building upon the work done by other organizations also aiming to push forward change for those experiencing poverty and homelessness. It has become increasingly clear to us that we are but a small part of a beating heart of an ecosystem with a common goal: to lift up the voices of the underserved and build technological solutions that work for them. This is why ShelterTech has fully committed to an open-source, collaborative approach in everything we do. Working with other organizations also aiming to help bridge the digital divide can only serve to improve our collective impact in the long term.
With collaboration being such an integral part of what we do, we are so excited to be part of Benetech’s Service Net pilot in the Bay Area. This first of its kind data collaboration initiative will allow us to work alongside other ServiceNet partner organizations to share the resource directory data that we have developed and honed throughout the years to one central platform, sharing the load of data maintenance and updates while also enriching each other’s datasets and knowledge of the local safety net. Using the ServiceNet hub will increase the quality and accuracy of our organization’s database while also reducing the cost and duplication of efforts that go into maintaining these records separately. Accuracy is clearly key to these types of databases. Consider the impact that incorrect or inaccurate information may have on a person experiencing homelessness. They may go to a shelter they thought was available seeking a comfortable night’s rest, only to find it closed or full. For them, that means another night of fear and instability. Another night without a roof over their head or a bed to lay on. How likely are they to use our platform again? Or even try to access services? What better way to avoid these kinds of errors than to engage in a group effort?
The hub will aggregate our data with that of the other ServiceNet pilot program participants, allowing us to view other organizations’ records and updates and giving us access to information we may be missing. Given the enormous operational burden involved in maintaining an accurate up-to-date directory of services, this is an invaluable system of cooperation, which will not only improve the overall wealth of specific and precise information available to people experiencing homelessness, but will also allow each individual ServiceNet partner organization to perform at maximum efficiency, thereby making the biggest change possible, both together and individually. The combined effort of everyone involved in the pilot program and the information we are able to gather as a result will also help Benetech expand their initiatives beyond the Bay Area and help even more people.
Benetech’s ServiceNet initiative underlines that building technology cannot be done in a vacuum and that, despite our important work as an individual organization, we are worth even more when part of a collective. Our main priority is always the human lives that we can be instrumental in changing, and the ways in which we can have the biggest impact on them. Being part of programs like this one encourages us to remember that and keep it at the very center of what we do.
Learn more about the ServiceNet pilot program here.