ShelterTech x Salesforce: Building a Better Experience for Health and Human Services

June 18, 2019 - ShelterTech
Salesforce datathon on May 14th, 2019
Salesforce datathon on May 14th, 2019

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 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.