ShelterTech Stories

The official blog of ShelterTech, an all-volunteer non-profit creating technology for people experiencing homelessness. Made with love in SF.
Laura Barrerra
Volunteer Spotlights
Volunteer Spotlight: Laura Barrera Vera

I moved to San Francisco in 2019 and immediately decided to join ShelterTech as I felt compelled to take action to address the worsening homelessness crisis. As Product Lead, I have focused on managing product development and on improving collaboration across all key teams to ensure we build an impactful product. At ShelterTech, we prioritize data quality over quantity, so ensuring timely and relevant updates has also been one of my top priorities. Launching SF Service Guide last November was personally satisfying as the people most in need finally have an easy way to access essential services and resources. As part of this project, I have had the opportunity to collaborate with city agencies and community-based organizations who help us better understand the needs of those less fortunate and inspire us every day to make SF Service Guide even better. As a volunteer, what makes the ShelterTech experience unique are my teammates. I am amazed every day by our volunteers’ dedication, professionalism and determination to build the best products possible while making a difference. I look forward to contributing my skills, knowledge and my passion for social impact while learning from my peer volunteers!

November 24, 2020 - Laura Berrera Vera
Mission Hotel, 520 South Van Ness Avenue San Francisco, CA 94110
ShelterConnect
The Mission Hotel, San Francisco’s Largest SRO, Now Provides Free Internet to Hundreds of At-Risk Residents

We recently accomplished a major milestone that will help us to accomplish our goal of providing all Bay Area shelters with WiFi access by 2024. On October 5, 2020, we completed installation of a WiFi network at the Mission Hotel — San Francisco’s largest Single-Room Occupancy (SRO) Hotel. Through incremental funding and partnerships, hundreds of at-risk residents now have free internet access, making it possible to easily communicate with friends and family, utilize crucial resources, and develop technological and vocational skills. For this project, we partnered with the City of San Francisco’s Digital Equity team to deliver 1GB fiber/ISP capability at no cost to the building. Cisco, which is a new partner of ShelterTech’s, generously donated equipment. Installation was provided by PCS-SF, a San Francisco-based IT support and services company. Funding for this project was partially provided by a grant from PagerDuty, Inc. a provider of global digital management solutions also based in San Francisco. The Tenderloin Housing Clinic (THC), a local nonprofit dedicated to low-income tenant’s rights and preserving and expanding San Francisco’s low-cost housing stock, has overseen the location’s operations since 1999 through the SRO/Master Lease Program. “We are truly grateful to Sheltertech for their partnership with THC and for their commitment to making WiFi accessible to tenants in our largest supportive housing site, the Mission Hotel. Having access to the internet is vital for individuals to stay connected, educated, and able to explore resources, especially during this health crisis that has impacted many of our tenants who suffer from mental health or substance use dependency,” Janet Aguilar, Director of Support Services at THC, said. Originally constructed in 1907, the Mission Hotel stands at 520 South Van Ness Ave., in the hub of the historical Mission District, which is characterized by both its largely Latino and Chicano residents and artistic scene. Since the late nineties, this area has struggled with gentrification, and, as a result, the displacement of native residents, comprising mostly Latino American middle-class families. Despite these trends, this 240-room location remains an integral part of the community by providing shelter to people facing homelessness or housing insecurity. “We are delighted to work with THC to help bridge the digital divide for their residents. Thanks to all of our partners for helping make this project possible,” said Bill Soward, Executive Director at ShelterTech. At ShelterTech, we are inspired every day by the belief that digital equity and connectivity is a right, not a privilege, providing people in need with a pathway to build a brighter future. Phase 1 of our program to provide all Bay area shelters internet access by 2024 is already underway and currently serves 18 shelters and over 4,000 residents per year. “There is no doubt that the WiFi services at the Mission Hotel will be an essential tool that will enable tenants to learn, stay current with information, and access online support groups and current events,” Janet Aguilar said. About ShelterTech Founded in 2016 and based in San Francisco, ShelterTech’s all-volunteer tech team has been on the front lines helping to bridge the digital divide for over 9,000 people experiencing homelessness and thousands more who are housing insecure. Working in close collaboration with the City of San Francisco, frontline services organizations, local corporations, and community representatives, ShelterTech is committed to delivering solutions built by the community, for the community. ShelterTech has two primary programs: SF ServiceGuide, an online directory of all San Francisco Shelters and Services and ShelterConnect, free WiFi for shelters.

October 26, 2020 - ShelterTech
Volunteers and Community Representatives gathered at a ShelterTech Datathon event
Community Stories
ShelterTech Community Stories

ShelterTech’s mission to connect people experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity to resources that address their challenges is only possible with the support of our community representatives whom we affectionately refer to as CRs. Our CRs have all experienced homelessness first hand, and we collaborate with them to soak up their invaluable insights and knowledge, develop new product offerings, and, most importantly, engage with volunteers at our datathons. Datathons are public events where volunteers from the community help us verify data in SFServiceGuide, our online directory of human services in San Francisco. Our CRs are vibrant, intellectual, and kind. They proudly voice their thoughts and passionately help us iterate and communicate our ideas to their communities — while also telling a story or joke along the way. The SFService Guide platform and our other initiatives are only possible with the continuous support and feedback of our CRs who enable us to create relevant and helpful products through their guidance and shared experiences. We are excited to launch the ShelterTech Community Stories series so that we can share our CRs unique stories widely. Each chapter will feature a conversation with one of our community representatives. We hope that anyone reading this will discover a new lens into the lives of those who have experienced homelessness and be inspired to take action in their own communities. Check out Chapter 1: Remembering Aaron Mendez

August 12, 2020 - ShelterTech
Illustration By: Cindy Niu, @cindydrawsthings
Community Stories
ShelterTech Community Stories Ch. 1: Remembering Aaron Mendez

ShelterTech Community Stories is a collection of stories highlighting the lives of our Community Representatives, the people inspiring the work of ShelterTech. More information about this initiative is available here. For our inaugural entry, we are spotlighting Aaron Mendez. Aaron is the reason why our Community Representative (CR) program is so robust today. An influencer in his community, he quickly became one of our go-to advisors on everything from new product ideas to community partnerships to implementing Wi-Fi in shelters. Aaron passed away in June 2020, but his contributions continue to influence ShelterTech and the people behind it. Below we have compiled a few anecdotes and remembrances to spotlight Aaron’s vivacity, sagacity, and magnanimity — qualities that made him integral to our community.

August 10, 2020 - ShelterTech
Salesforce datathon on May 14th, 2019
ShelterTech x Salesforce: Building a Better Experience for Health and Human Services

Since its founding twenty years ago, Salesforce has committed to giving back to its community. The company pioneered the 1–1–1 model[1], which “dedicates 1% of Salesforce’s equity, 1% of Salesforce’s product and 1% of Salesforce employees’ time back to communities around the world.” The third 1% is the driving factor behind Salesforce’s employees taking “volunteering time off” (VTO) to become stakeholders in their respective communities. Especially in San Francisco, one significant challenge that volunteers are tackling is leveraging technology solutions to help empower the community around issues of homelessness and poverty. ShelterTech is one such organization tackling this issue. We are a San Francisco-based nonprofit comprised entirely of volunteers, and we aim to solve the biggest technology challenges faced by those experiencing homelessness. Salesforce and ShelterTech both understand and value the transformative power and responsibility of using technology for good, and some Salesforce employees also regularly volunteer at ShelterTech and have worked on other programs such as ShelterConnect (a free wifi service installed at shelters and transitional housing centers) and Casey (a case management self-service solution that guides at-risk individuals through common problems associated with homelessness). Salesforce also actively participates in other initiatives as well. Faithforce, a Salesforce employee-led and employee-organized Ohana group[2], has had volunteers work at City Impact and other shelters, and has also been closely aligned with ShelterTech this year to reach out to these communities. Marc and Lynne Benioff have also donated $30 million to launch the UCSF Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative[3], which will start efforts to work with organizations in San Francisco to help underserved communities. An Ambitious Endeavor With over 1,700 services, 360 organizations, and 200 categories, AskDarcel is the definitive platform of homeless resources and services for case managers and the communities that they support. To make sure that the data is maintained and up to date, ShelterTech hosts periodic public workshop events called “datathons” that bring together volunteers from organizations and the community at large to help update the information for these resources on the website. These volunteers work alongside community representatives (CRs) who are either currently homeless, or have previously been homeless to research and make improvements such as validating phone numbers, verifying a resource’s website description, correcting a resource’s address and location, and fixing broken links are some of the tasks that take place. To date, over 200 volunteers have helped support this effort. One Ohana Recently, we hosted a datathon with 16 Salesforce employees, held at Salesforce’s San Francisco headquarters. The event was well received, and these volunteers were able to discover a different, first-hand perspective of San Francisco’s homelessness challenge. At the datathon, we spoke with Julia Kim, a Salesforce employee to learn about her background in volunteering for various causes and her views on homelessness. Julia previously volunteered at a number of nonprofit organizations, including most recently at an eco-agriculture farm in Costa Rica focused on environment conservation efforts. She participated in the datathon because she resonated with ShelterTech’s mission to make an impact on the perpetual problem of homelessness in San Francisco using technology as a driving force for change. Through partnering with Marilyn, a community representative who regularly works with ShelterTech, she learned about the Obama phone program[4] which has helped 20 million financially-strapped Americans get a free cell phone and minutes and enables them to access to ShelterTech services. In a reflection of current economic hardships across the United States, Julia remarked that there is a striking difference in the accessibility to shelters for the homeless community in New York compared to San Francisco. Through the datathon, she was surprised to learn the number of resources available to the homeless community in San Francisco and saw the value in the services ShelterTech provides to connect those who are homeless in San Francisco to available shelters. For this reason, Julia supports solutions such as AskDarcel.org and was happy to have worked with Marilyn, on updating contact data on the website. A Call to Action Despite tech companies contributing to San Francisco’s strong economic growth over the past 20 years, the combination of rising housing costs and home availability shortages has led to a continuous increase of poverty and homelessness. A report[5] from the office of San Francisco Mayor London Breed showed that from 2017 to 2018, the city saw a 17% increase of homeless individuals from 6,858 to 8,011. In our mission to meet the needs of individuals experiencing homelessness, ShelterTech and AskDarcel thrive on the kindness and support of our volunteers. If you’re interested in volunteering or have your organization partner with us in an upcoming Datathon, send us an email at [email protected] Finally, it takes a village to keep the lights on at ShelterTech. Did you know that Community Representatives are compensated for their time working with volunteers at a Datathon? If you might be able to help us raise $500 to cover the costs of our next Datathon, please Donate here. *The views expressed in this article are solely of the volunteers’, and not representative of Salesforce as a whole. References: 1: https://www.salesforce.com/company/ventures/pledge1/ 2: https://www.salesforce.com/company/equality/ohanas/#eq-sf-fh 3: https://www.salesforce.com/company/news-press/stories/2019/05/050119-e/ 4: https://www.obamaphone.com/ 5: https://sfmayor.org/article/mayor-breed-announces-new-homelessness-prevention-funding-city-releases-initial-homelessness

June 18, 2019 - ShelterTech
Volunteer Spotlight
Laura Barrera-Vera
Program Manager, SF Service Guide
I moved to San Francisco in 2019 and immediately decided to join ShelterTech as I felt compelled to take action to address the worsening homelessness crisis. As Product Lead, I have focused on managing product development and on improving collaboration across all key teams to ensure we build an impactful product.