I’ve lived most of my life in London and have always been troubled by homelessness – and how it can be as huge a problem in a city as wealthy as ours. I’d do what thousands of Londoners do: buy some food for rough sleepers and volunteer at events like Crisis at Christmas. But I began to wonder if I could do more, using what I’ve learned working in technology.
One day, I met a homeless person at my local Tube station. I got to know him and would buy him tea and socks. I soon began thinking about what I could do to help him move away from homelessness – for the long-term. In particular, I’ve always been interested in connecting people online for mutual benefit. Soon, I saw an opportunity to do something similar in homelessness.
What if we could make it easy for someone to make a long-term difference to someone experiencing homelessness – right from their smartphone?
What if we started by saying that the best long-term solution to homelessness is rewarding, paid work and independence?
What if we could give people fantastic new opportunities if we clubbed together and bought them something much more expensive than a tea – the best training possible?
Being new to the sector, I knew I had much to learn so set up meetings with senior, brilliant people to get their input: Jeremy Swain at Thames Reach, Stephen Robertson at The Big Issue, and Matt Harrison at Homeless Link. I explained the concept of crowdfunding employment training, while building a services layer to support the members. And I said, “Look, I’m new to this. If this is terrible idea, just tell me!” Fortunately, all of them were encouraging!
As the project gathered speed, I began interviewing people experiencing homelessness and ran some user testing at Centrepoint. I wanted to see a spark in people's eyes – that they were excited about the opportunity to get the funding they needed to realise their career ambitions. I also wanted to find out if, in the age of social media, people would be not only feel comfortable but proud of online profiles – provided they were positive, safe and placed real value on their lived experience.
Soon, we were working with Thames Reach and The Connection at St Martin’s to co-create the first version of the operational model. More breakthroughs came with innovation grants from the Mayor of London and Nesta allowing us to make our first hire: Seb Barker, who came with crucial experience from Thames Reach, Turning Point and NHS England where he designed personalised services. Seb had also worked on the first “social impact bond” in homelessness and was as passionate as me about working in a way that was in equal parts humane and outcomes-driven. Then we teamed up with a brilliant software developer in the form of Julian Keenaghan who I'd previously worked with. Julian has built all of our tech from scratch.
Beam launched in September 2017. And we haven’t looked back.
Beam’s community of supporters now stands at over 1,500 people helping homeless people overcome homelessness for the long-term – join us!
32 of our members are now in training. And all 6 of our members to have passed their training are in work in their target careers.
We’re also thrilled to have won a London Homelessness Award and an award for Best use of Technology in the Homelessness Sector - from the sector's trade body.
But we’re just getting started.
We’re planning to empower thousands of people a year to turn their lives around with the support of a community of millions of people. We hope you join us.
A version of this article has appeared on the London Housing Federation blog.