After 59 years of days and nights and dinners and life, Jimmy Ray Smith lost his wife and his home. That was 2003. Since then, he's braved the street, dancing through society's blind spot, buoyed by cheerful resolve and stop-gap services such as the local shelter. Recently, he managed a regular income adequate to cover affordable housing's monthly rent, but did not have enough saved to handle up-front costs like utility deposits. That hurdle was simply too high, and it kept him on the street.
At its heart, Jimmy's story is many things--touching, haunting, revealing--but it is not unique. It is a story shared by others, a story we forget to tell each other. Luckily though, it is a story we can rewrite.
A Story With a Different Ending
Six months ago, Jimmy moved into a home. Thanks to the dedication of his case workers and a handful of donors working through Unhoused Humanity, he was able to cover the cost of up-front deposits. He benefits now from a federal government program known as rapid rehousing, but there are others waiting for entry in the same program, plagued by the same lump-sum costs.
Unhoused Humanity leverages crowdfunding to collect donations--100% of which goes to the homeless-- that cover these costs. Case workers at a local service agency identify individuals with evidence of steady income and commitment to getting off the street. They partner with Unhoused Humanity, who raises private funds and jumpstarts the agency's ability to secure a housing unit. It's a public-private partnership powered by empathy and technology.
Using this formula, Unhoused Humanity has housed nine people since their late-2014 launch. All nine have stayed in their home, a testament to the partnership's potential. By connecting donors to those in need, Aleman's spin on social entrepreneurship increases the visibility of homelessness while taking substantive action to end it.
HomeS for Those in Need
For Ramon Aleman, Unhoused Humanity's founder, homelessness is personal. When he was young, Aleman's parents told him that his grandfather had spent a handful of years living without a home. The story left a strong impression, one that motivates him to this day. "[My Grandfather] was one of the most important and influential people in my life, and I had a great love for him," Aleman says. "If he would've never been able to get off the street there is a big chance I could have never met him."
On top of his family's close connection to homelessness, Unhoused Humanity's founder drew inspiration from a conversation he once had with a formerly homeless man named Andre. Describing his time spend on the street, Andre said that the worst part of being homeless was being ignored, shunned, and left out of society. It caused Andre to feel undervalued and inhuman. Aleman hopes to solve that exclusion by "start[ing] a movement to bring the unhoused back into humanity."
Lessons in Entrepreneurship
Bringing a social business to life has taught Aleman more than his fair share of lessons. Taking Domi's Get Started course forced him to get out of the building and talk to donors and caseworkers, an exercise he says helped him "build something of value for everyone involved."
Driven by a long-term desire to maximize impact through scalability, Unhoused Humanity began where every startup humbly begins: With the very real challenge of acquiring its first customer. A commitment to customer discovery and customer service, Aleman learned, was essential. "We must go above and beyond to make every customer and donor feel special," he says. "I've learned that it is not 'build it, and they will come.' In reality, it is 'get them to come, build it as you go.'"
Unhoused Humanity continues to build on its momentum. It is currently raising funds to cover deposits for three more homeless individuals. To find out more, click below. Let's help end homeless in our community.