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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Homeless In San Francisco? There’s An App For That

 Homeless people camp in front of an out of business Trader Vic's restaurant on January 11, 2011 in San Francisco, California. An new app connects homeless people in the city -- many of whom have mobile phones -- to services, such as shelters and food. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Homeless people camp in front of an out of business Trader Vic’s restaurant on January 11, 2011 in San Francisco, California. An new app connects homeless people in the city — many of whom have mobile phones — to services, such as shelters and food. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Homeless men and women in San Francisco have a new way of finding services such as food and shelter.

It’s an app — Link-SF — that links homeless people to available shelter, food, medical supplies, a place to bathe or use the computer.

The app was created by the start-up Zendesk with the non-profit St. Anthony Foundation. The foundation realized that nearly 40 percent of the lower income or homeless men and women using its Tenderloin Technology Lab had mobile phones.

Here & Now’s Robin Young speaks with Megan Trotter, the program manager at the Tenderloin Technology Lab, and Del Seymour, who was formerly homeless but now operates a small business.

There are federal programs that provide low income and homeless people with cell phones and talk and text plans.

The homeless, more or less, have a right and need access to high tech opportunity and devices.

– Del Seymour

“The homeless, more or less, have a right and need access to high tech opportunity and devices,” Seymour said. “Cell phones when they first came out, they were luxuries. But now they are necessities.”

Tech companies like Google and Twitter have been the focal point of affordable housing advocates’ criticism. Zendesk created the Link-SF app because it signed a community benefits agreement when it located to the Tenderloin, a historically impoverished neighborhood in San Francisco. But Trotter and Seymour see the relationship between the tech industry and the poor differently.

“I don’t think this project is the only thing Zendesk is doing,” Trotter said. “As far as does it make up for tech companies coming in and displacing people, I don’t know. But I think that the community benefits agreement and the opportunity that can develop through partnerships are exponential, and we are just starting to see what can come out of this.”

Seymour says many so-called “techies” are also struggling against unaffordable rents. He says the tech industry’s obligation to low-income communities they are disrupting is to take a chance on them.

“Our teenagers need to be assimilated into the tech industry,” Seymour said. “They have that natural ability to work technical devices. And I think the tech companies need to think about bringing some of these kids in off the corner. And that would get some people out of the Google hate bus.”

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Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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