Homelessness Solutions: Connecting Givers in our Communities with the Homeless (Part 1 – the Idea)

14 06 2009


I was extremely impressed by a website called  Modest Needs which started in March 2002 and has grown to help over 27,000 people struggling to make ends meet and has given away more than $1 million dollars. The concept of the website is to provide a helping hand for hardworking people who encounter a small, unexpected expense that threatens their financial stability. These small needs can range from small amounts such as $40 to a maximum of $1000 and the types of people it helps can include a single mother who has to choose between rent or her child’s dentist appointment, or a college student who has to choose between books for class and the power bill which pays for the light to read by, or a senior person whose car breaks down unexpectedly and needs some extra cash in order to remain mobile. Here’s how it works: Through Modest Needs people can go to the website, and choose who they want their money to go to, and Modest Needs will pay the bill directly. Modest Needs provides the website and screens all of the grant applicants. If you’d like to donate, you go to the website and get a certain amount of points for your donation, and then you can use your points to vote for who you want to get the grant. Once a person has enough votes for their request, Modest Needs fulfills the grant.

This idea is effective and efficient because it provides a low cost website as the medium for givers to connect with those in need. It’s novel because rather than just asking people to donate to a charity, the donors have the power to choose who gets the grant, perhaps attracting more donors by providing the added benefit of getting to choose who gets the support.The video below shows the website featured in the news.

Other websites that have provided the connection between givers and those in need include:

  • kiva– a micro-lending website that connects donors to entrepreneurs in impoverished communities all over the world. Throughout the loan, you can keep in contact with your sponsored entrepreneur with journals.
  • education generation– a website that allows you to browse student profiles in order to help fund education for students in need.
  • Compassionlogoworldvision – these organizations allow you to sponsor children in some of the poorest countries in the world in order to provide them with food, education, and health services. You can browse their websites to select a child, and then maintain correspondence with the child through letters and updates.

Providing a connection between givers and those in need has proved to be extremely successful for many social issues throughout our world, from children in developing countries, to students in need, to people struggling to make ends meet. I would like to extend this concept to the homelessness problem by proposing a website which connects donors to the homeless people in the Tri Cities. I looked at the Modest Needs website, and there is only 1 person from British Columbia that I could choose to sponsor – these websites have yielded tremendous success around the world, and it’s time for us to bring the idea home so that our community can benefit from their advantages. I have met so many people who really want to help the homeless and simply don’t know how, or don’t feel that they can have a big impact. What if we could target the low needs homeless people in the Tri Cities and connect them with people in their local community who can help them financially? Our low needs target would be people who have recently slipped into homelessness and are not addicted or hard to house. Looking at the Tri Cities homeless population of 200, a rough estimate of the low needs homeless would be around 20 people. These are 20 people whom we can help get out of homelessness before they get into the cycle of poverty and addiction. What if we could ask members of our local community, local businesses, and other groups to donate and support these low needs homeless people, tracking their progress on the website, and giving the community the opportunity to support them financially and also leave them encouraging comments on the website? Here we would be providing people with the chance to support someone who is not half way around the world, but lives in their very own community, without a home and in need of support and love from the people around them.

I welcome your comments and thoughts on this idea.




6 responses

14 06 2009

I think that this solution could work, though we also need to take a closer look at the root of the problem (mental illness, violence, physical illness, etc….sorry if you’ve already addressed these in earlier posts). I was recently challenged by a reader about what can be called temporary stop-gaps versus true solutions. =)

15 06 2009

Thanks for bringing that up Beatrice. I agree that we need to look at the root of the problem whenever we want to solve an issue as complex as homelessness. But it also depends on what the goals of our solution are – is it to solve the root of the problem, or in this case, to target the low needs people who are not addicted and hard to house, and help them before they get into a cycle of homelessness and poverty.

The website can start small and help the 20 low needs homeless people in the Tri Cities, and eventually grow to tackle the more chronically homeless people and the special issues that brings up as well.

15 06 2009

This sounds like a great idea! I agree with beatrice that addressing the underlying root problem is important too. However, this is a great way to help people struggling to get by. One question, how do we reach these homeless people? Also, one perception or one reason why people are not willing to give out money when they see homeless people on the streets is because they think the money may be used to buy drugs. Do you have any ideas on how to change the way people look at homeless people or how to ensure the public that the money they are donating is for a good purpose?

15 06 2009

Hi Helen, thanks for your comments!

To reach the homeless people, I plan to contact outreach workers in the Tri Cities who already know them. There are about 200 homeless people in the Tri Cities and there are some full time outreach workers who visit them regularly and try and help them get off the streets, so they have files on many of the homeless people here.

To dispel the notion that the money could be used to buy drugs, I would make it so that the website itself administers the money. So if the homeless person needs to pay rent, then we would simply provide the link between the homeless person and the donor, and we would take the money and pay the rent directly, so that there is never any doubt that the money goes where it is intended.

I welcome your thoughts on these ideas!

15 06 2009

I think solutions likes these would be effective, but in times of uncertainty (ie. now) we need to see how people can really afford to help others. Many want to help- yes. But, most times the barrier is that the funds are not accessible (either personally or universally). People cannot afford to donate as much or at all this year to yearly campaigns and non-profits are losing the funding they so desperately need to run their organizations. Modest Needs is a great idea when individual giving is possible- i don’t think now is the time. In this case, who do you think the responsibility falls on? The big banks and businesses? The government programs? Or is homelessness and other related social issues the responsibility of society as a whole?

15 06 2009

Thanks for your comment – I think that the responsibility lies on society as a whole. I’d like to share the story of how Modest Needs was created – it all started with Keith Taylor, who was a professor. He always wanted to become a philanthropist, but with student loans and his regular monthly expenses, he never found that he had the amount of money to spare that other big philanthropists had, so his dream of giving back to the community seemed impossible. Then he realized that every little amount of giving can still help, and that when he was going through tough times it was when people lent him small amounts of money, that it really helped him get by. So he decided that he wanted to give 10% of his salary away every month, and that’s when he came up with the idea of Modest Needs, a website which has now helped give away over $1 million dollars.

I don’t think there will ever be a time when the majority of people in society will have extra cash on their hands to give – there will always be increasing expenses, a recession, etc. But this doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to give – the recession affects everyone, and often hits poor people the hardest. So I believe that of course governments and businesses should also contribute to these programs, but the idea of the Modest Needs website and the website I would like to create for homeless people is to harness the giving potential of each individual person in our society.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: