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Seattle homeless wear electronic beacons that tell their stories to passersby

Seattle homeless advocates and developers are finding ways to put a human face on homelessness. We've written about the WeCount digital platform that enables people to fulfill specific requests – a pair of shoes or a sleeping bag – that a homeless person has asked for. And it was a Seattle architect who started the Facing Homelessness initiative that has since spread to other cities. Read below about another innovative and compassionate approach to help Seattle's homeless community. – Philip Bane


When it comes to the number of homeless on its streets, in camps or shelters, Seattle/King County ranks No. 3 after New York City and Los Angeles, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's 2016 estimates.

So people walking, biking or driving along the streets of Seattle see lots of homeless people. An app called GiveSafe helps them learn the story behind some of the faces they pass by and, if they wish, have a conversation and/or make a safe, cashless donation in any amount to help meet the person's needs – groceries, bus fare, maybe a haircut.

The homeless wear electronic beacons with Bluetooth emitters they get from local nonprofit shelters. When someone with the GiveSafe app is within 10 to 15 yards, they get a notification and can choose to read the homeless person's story and see a photo.

“There’s no reason I shouldn’t give to these folks. It’s set up in such a way that it goes towards things that are obviously helpful and meaningful, and immediately important,” Katherine Boyd told Seattle television station King5. She said she's donated at least 30 times.

People can give with clarity and without cash the moment they see a need, simply by tapping a notification on their phone, the GiveSafe website explains. The beacon holder can spend the money at select merchants or through a nonprofit counselor on goods or services like warm clothing or transportation.

Building better lives
GiveSafe – founded by Jonathan Kumar with software developed by Andrei Villasana -- says it focuses on people who are struggling with homelessness and actively trying to advance their lives. It provides both financial resources from donors and guidance from the company's nonprofit partners.

"What you're doing is one of the most heartwarming things I've heard of in such a long time," a woman recently posted on GiveSafe's Facebook page. Wrote another: "It warms my heart and relieves my soul to know that this is a new resource out there for so many neighbors, friends, and fellow humans."

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This article is from the Council's Compassionate Cities initiative which highlights how city leaders and other stakeholders can leverage smart technologies to end suffering in their communities and give all citizens a route out of poverty. Click the Compassionate Cities box on our registration page to receive our weekly newsletter.

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