320,000 people are homeless in the UK, says charity Shelter. It’s easy to become just a number. Now there is a solution that puts a face and a name to a person without a home, helps them find a budget for training or child care and brings them into a community.
Beam’s founder Alex Stephany, who also set up the parking-sharing app JustPark and wrote about the sharing economy, says this solution has been made possible by technology. He says, “The superpower of technology is that it connects different groups of people.”
Beam is a social enterprise working with homelessness charities such as Shelter and St Mungo’s. It connects members, individuals suggested by partner charities, to a caseworker who works with them to think of solutions, in the form of training, child care, mental health or addiction support.
They form a personal employment plan that works out budgets and sets up the member on the Beam crowdfunding platform. It has already found over 2,500 supporters to fund and support individuals out of homelessness.
The collaborative economy
Beam is part of the ‘collaborative economy’, where consumers rely on each other, and not on business, to meet their needs. It is an extension of the sharing economy, and the ideas of collaboration and sharing can be used interchangeably.
The sharing economy is epitomised by platforms such as Airbnb, which was founded in 2008 and in simple terms connects homeowners with spare rooms to holidaymakers. Beam connects people who want to donate to an individual and manages the way that money goes toward a particular project.
Beyond the money, Beam is focused on providing a community and support network. When a supporter donates they can leave a message and follow an individual’s progress via the Beam platform.
Inspiration from one in a crowd
Stephany describes how he used to see the same homeless man by his London underground station. That man disappeared for several weeks and when he came back Stephany learned he had suffered a heart attack. He realised his cups of coffee could only do so much and saw that the technology used by businesses within the sharing economy could be used to take crowdfunding and make it scalable, bring it down to a lower cost and empower the public.
The homeless man who inspired Stephany to set up Beam disappeared. Average life expectancy among the homeless is 47 years for men and 43 for women.
The idea behind Beam is that everyone can play a part in helping homeless men and women into more stable and secure situations, connecting the ethical consumer to get their money to those who need the help.