Mobile Phones

Samaritan, the application that seeks to raise awareness to the homeless

aplicacion samaritan tech for change app beacon holder

Many are fortunate not to have had to live in conditions of poverty. But there are millions of people who have experienced it at some point of their lives difficulties to put food on the table or even have a roof. Poverty is a reality even in developed economies. According to the World Bank, 10 per cent of the world’s population lives on less than $1.90 per day.

We all walked to the side of someone who asks for money on the street or in a public space. Some give what they can, while many others choose to ignore them and continue on its course undeterred.

In cities with millions of people, where it is still more likely to go unnoticed, to ask for help can be much more complex. It is precisely this invisibility that Jonathan Kumar and Rene Garcia are intended to decrease through the non-governmental organization (NGO) Samaritan, which has as its motto “Walk with, not by” (“Walk with, not to the side”) and a novel application.

A simple idea, but powerful

“The idea came when I saw a man asking for money to buy a medicine. Spent half an hour without a single person will reach out. I decided to talk with him and ask what were their challenges to get help from the people. His response was that it had the look right, that it did not look sufficiently poor and, in general, does not comply with the profile of the people who ask for money”, suggests Kumar. And it was at that moment when he realized that invisibility was a major problem for the homeless.

The idea behind Samaritan is simple, but quite powerful. There is a bias: the alms many times cover vices, like drugs or alcohol, and not really urgent needs. “Most of the times, people fall into conditions of poverty are in this situation because the have thrown out of the house or because someone close has died,” adds Kumar. The organization seeks to break down that prejudice to collect the stories of these people and show them to those who are willing to collaborate over an application on the phone.

If you walk close to a person that is part of the program of Samaritan, a notification sent by the app will show you your picture and your story. The interface will give you the option to donate money and send a message of encouragement. The program takes two and a half years in the pilot test in the city of Seattle, united States, and soon will extend to San Francisco, Portland, Chicago and New York.

So the program works

Given the economic circumstances in which they live their potential beneficiaries, it is impossible to pretend that you have a mobile phone to access the program.

The Bluetooth technology is all that Samaritan needs to be able to implement your idea, through a collar with a chip and a battery that lasts more than a month. The device emits a signal permanently, so that the phone who have the app can detect. In English this technology is called “beacon” and, therefore, the participants are called “beacon holders” (“user beacon” in Spanish).

The technology of the program and its implementation depend on the salvadoran Rene Garcia, co-founder and chief Technology officer of the organization, whose long term ambition is to expand to Latin america, where 32.2% of the population lives in poverty, according to Eclac. “I called a lot of attention to the social impact they can have and the way in which it can be implemented in El Salvador”, exemplifies. Despite this, it is aware that the implementation and success of the application outside the united States are subject to numerous factors.

Garcia says that one of the barriers to the platforms of payment processing. If Samaritan work in El Salvador, the donations would go first for the united States, which would increase operational costs. Another obstacle is the penetration of the technology, the use habits and the purchasing power of the Latin american countries. For a start, fewer people will have in their hands a cell phone or even money to donate. In addition, the insecurity it risky to get a phone in the street.

Moving forward

According to Jonathan Kumar, the average amount of money received on a monthly basis by a “beacon holder” is $40 dollars. Given the costs of living in the united States, it’s not enough to do much. However, that’s better than nothing. How do the beneficiaries gain access to your money? Are the directors of the network of social services partners with Samaritan who determine how it is spent. Can be to buy food or pay a receipt of services, for example. As the battery in the collar not lasting more than a month, the beneficiaries should visit their counselor regularly to get a new one.

Patricia Dehart is one of the users of this project, who by a family suddenly homeless. “Samaritan has allowed me to get resources for things that are necessary but are not always considered essential,” he says. A hair cut is a good example. If anyone is looking for progress, personal appearance matters and it is best to be in the hands of a stylist.

“I was able to get a job and I used the money for some inputs. The most difficult thing has been not having immediate income. In particular, did not have the time to go to agencies where they offer food, showers and laundry facilities,” he adds. But their ambitions are larger and not only is thinking of in their basic needs: “I used (the money) to buy a laptop, my tool to participate in an online program of FullStack JavaScript, for which I won a scholarship,” she says proudly.

A small grain of sand

The impact that it has had Samaritan is substantial. The pilot project has counted with 500 users but very soon will add 1,500 thanks to its expansion into other cities in the united States.

In addition, it solves the problem of anonymity, which is the root of the misunderstanding and the prejudices of many. In short, returns us to the essence of what it is to live in society and help others, even anonymously.

“I love to watch the progress of the people I help. Know how to advance their lives and who continue to see their counselors is rewarding,” says Rogers Weed, who has donated part of his money in the last two years. In total, he has delivered $251 dollars to beneficiaries of Samaritan, which was activated recently the option to make the follow-up of its beneficiaries.

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Those who installed the application can also send messages of encouragement. It is an ideal option for those donors as Weed, who has used the occasion of the contributions made in the last three months. Very excited, he says he also received his first response. If you are an outgoing person and want to introduce yourself and talk with the beneficiary, you can also do so.

Take advantage of technology to improve the world makes Samaritan worthy of being highlighted in our section on Tech for Change, a platform where Digital Trends in Spanish and Digital Trends highlight the projects and technological ideas that seek to do good and bring positive changes in society. Kumar and Garcia managed to meet its goal of “walking with, and not to the side”. The invisibility and prejudice are being fought to give way to the solidarity, something that this planet needs more frequently.

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