If you live in Seattle and want to help some of the 4,500 people living on the streets, here's a new way: You can make a donation at WeCount, a new service that matches the needs of the homeless with the spare resources of a local community.
Founders Jonathan Sposato and Graham Pruss liken WeCount to platforms like Airbnb or Lyft, except the goods and services on offer aren't vacations or taxi rides, but rather sleeping bags and tents. The homeless list items they need while members of the public list items to donate. The platform then links up the two sides, arranging delivery, and allowing donors and donees to stay in touch if they wish.
"One advantage here is that it's completely painless," says Sposato, a tech entrepreneur who's sold two companies to Google. "It's super easy for me to engage in activity where I can be helpful for someone whereas traditional giving is a little less personal. You don't get a sense of really impacting a specific individual."
WeCount, a nonprofit, is partnered with the City of Seattle’s Human Services Department, and groups like Union Gospel Mission, Facing Homelessness, and the local YMCA. It has 25 branded drop-off points in the Seattle area where the homeless can pick up donated items. They're all from a prescribed list of 200 items ranging from socks to clothes for an interview. You can't donate money directly to individuals, though WeCount itself plans to accept money for its own upkeep.
Last year, Seattle's mayor declared homelessness in the city to be an "emergency." But Pruss, who has worked for several homelessness nonprofits, says the problem isn't necessarily a lack of resources—it's as much a failure to distribute those resources more effectively.
"While there is a huge amount of need, there is actually a huge amount of services and a lot of people who want to help. Often there's a disconnect in communication as individuals haven't been able to express what truly would be able to help them," he says.
Pruss hopes that when the homeless use WeCount, they'll find out about other opportunities available, whether it's permanent housing or job training. "We hope we can get it beyond the, 'How do we get the things that improve this person's life to tonight?' to 'How do we improve their lives tomorrow?'" he says.
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