WeShelter

A nonprofit to inspire action about homelessness

Winter 2013 – Present

"The concept behind WeShelter is simple: Every time you walk past someone living on the street, you tap a button, and that triggers a corporate sponsor to give a donation to a local homeless service organization."

Fast Company

While my friend Ilya Lyashevsky and I were working at a startup called Broadcastr, we often had lunch, and that's where the concept for WeShelter came out of. One frequent topic of discussion was about our desire to try to do something when we saw someone that was homeless.

We actually didn't know the right thing to do, so we did a bit of homework and learned about the City's policies, the organizations serving the homeless, and about the leading solutions. Our core belief was that more New Yorkers would contribute to addressing the issue if given the means to do so.

At first we concieved of an app to crowdfund small donations. After meeting with local homeless services organizations and getting some initial validation, we built our first app. It didn't stick – nobody would follow through with making many small donations.

We weren't deterred. At the time, micropayments were difficult to pull off on iOS and expensive to process. We wanted to make it easier to convert the impulse to help someone to action, so we sought out sponsors for each donation who would get representation in the app. Once we were asking the smallest bit of users – simply open the app and tap a button to unlock a donation – the behavior started to catch on.

Though the project has remained small, it still pays out a modest donation to homeless services groups in New York and, beginning in June 2016, San Francisco as well. In January 2016 our team built a digital pilot app for the NYC Department of Homeless Services for the HOPE Count, where thousands of volunteers work overnight in the dead of winter to perform a sort of street homeless census. In September 2017 we launched the Helpfinder app which helps at-risk and homeless people with services.

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Project Roles

Co-Founder, Product Design


Attributes

Non-Profit, Mobile, Social