At the intersection of 6th and Columbia in downtown Seattle, Edward, a physically imposing man, gruffly covered with tattoos, ballcap, and coats, holds a sign seeking help. Twenty minutes goes by, not a single response to the sign. This is a story all too common. A homeless person sits with a sign or their belongings, and people walk by without so much as a glance. Many of those who do glance, judge the person. And those who are willing to give money, often do not have cash on them.
Edward, like all homeless, has a story to tell. A story about how he became homeless. A story to tell about why he was asking for money. A story to tell about his life and his interests.
Unlike many, Edward was fortunate enough to be noticed by Jonathan Kumar. Jonathan approached him after having observed him from a distance. He asked Edward why he thought no one was helping him. Was it because no one had money on them? Edward’s response was “It’s my appearance, my hat, my tattoos. It’s all wrong.” When asked what he is raising money for, he responds that he is diabetic and could not afford his medication and the diabetes was starting to degrade his feet because he wasn’t able to get consistent amounts of meds from local shelters.
It is the story of Edward that inspired the creation of Samaritan. Jonathan wanted to humanize the homeless and bring people together to help the homeless. He wanted people to see that, like those that are housed, the homeless are people too. They too have feelings, dreams, and needs like any human does. He shared his vision with an acquaintance and was introduced to Jason Keil of Polaris Payments. Together they have harnessed the power of technology, people, businesses, and entrepreneurship for good.
I was able to sit down with Jason Keil, who is now CMO of Samaritan, to learn more about Samaritan and their distribution of low-energy beacons to individuals in need through nonprofit shelters and partners.
Kara Wenrich: How do the beacons work?
Jason Keil: The beacons are registered to the individual and a profile for the beacon holder is created in the Samaritan app. When a person who has the Samaritan app on their cell phone walks within 30 yards of a beacon holder, a notification pops up on their phone with a brief description of the beacon holder. When the individual with the app swipes the notification, the profile of the beacon holder appears. The profile includes a picture of the beacon holder, how they became homeless, what their interests are, and what they need. It also gives the option of making a secure donation (Apple Pay, Credit Card, PayPal) to the beacon holder and ways to “break the ice” with the beacon holder.
KW: How can the beacon holders use their funds?
JK: Every beacon holder checks in with a counselor at a nonprofit partner each month. When they check-in, the counselor goes over what beacon holders’ needs are, connects them with resources, and helps come up with a plan for spending the funds. We are able to ensure they check-in by making the battery life of the beacon just over a month. When they check-in, they also get a new battery. The beacon holder also has the option of spending the money at designated partner merchants. The money cannot be used on alcohol or drugs, rather it can be spent on food, clothing, transportation, haircuts, and other essential items and services.
KW: What are your goals with Samaritan?
JK: To provide a “social home” in 100 cities in the United States in the next five years. We are already in talks with a few more cities. We also want to make the invisible, visible. For people to go from stranger to friend.
KW: So many people walk by the homeless with not so much as a glance or they try and avoid eye contact. These beacons help to humanize the homeless and get people to notice them. What else can we do to humanize the homeless? What can we do to encourage people to acknowledge and help them?
JK: Walk with, not by. Talk to people. Mentor and hire the homeless. Acknowledge that you may be avoiding eye contact and glancing at the homeless and make an effort to remedy that. Ask the homeless their stories and read the stories of our beacon holders when you come across them. Take them to lunch, or introduce them to others.
KW: What can YP Impact do for Samaritan?
JK: Young Professionals of Seattle members can invite Samaritan into their workplace or church so we can share our story. People can also volunteer to pass out beacons, be a storyteller, download and use the app, download posters and distribute them, make introductions to contacts in other cities, donate, or purchase a “Walk With, Not By” sweatshirt. They can learn more about these options by going to Samaritan.city and clicking on “Get Involved.”
Follow along on Samaritan’s journey by following their journal.
YP Impact is a budding community of young professionals with an interest in giving back to the community we live, work and play in. If you’re interested in joining the community or just hearing more, visit this page and sign up to follow along.