Tackling homelessness with crowdfunding

When Alex Stephany befriended a homeless man he met at his local tube station, he had no idea the connection would inspire a ground-breaking new crowdfunding platform that would support homeless people into work.

“I started buying him a pair of socks or a cup of coffee, but his condition gradually deteriorated and eventually he disappeared,” explains Alex, whose background is in the technology sector.

It transpired that the man had suffered a heart attack, and when he appeared the streets again, Alex felt compelled to do something more significant.

“I began to ask myself what I could do to help beyond buying coffees and socks,” he says. “It occurred to me that what this man – who was illiterate and had never had a job – really needed was the chance to develop some skills, an opportunity for training and the means to support himself.”

A year later, Alex launched Beam. It’s helping solve the UK’s homelessness crisis by crowdfunding employment training for homeless people and supporting them back into work.

“We’ve built a platform that is empowering homeless people to fulfil their potential and become anything from bricklayers to accountants,” says Alex.

Read: How homelessness affects employment opportunities

“Crowdfunding is an incredible model for helping people who are disadvantaged into jobs, because it gives people access to high-quality training and education that creates economic opportunity, as well as a much-needed support network from the funders of their campaigns.”

In the UK, more than 440 homeless people died on the streets or in temporary accommodation in the past year, according to research by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. In London, homelessness has risen 20 per cent in the last quarter.

Adam, a former drug addict who spent six months sleeping on the street, recently qualified as a bricklayer through the Beam platform.

“I was addicted to crack and heroin for a number of years and as my addiction progressed, I ended up burning all my bridges with my family and friends until I became street homeless,” he says. “An outreach team from No Second Night Out helped me into a temporary shelter and that was the start of my recovery.”

Read: How to break free from self-limiting narratives

From there, Adam got a place in a hostel and eventually went through a rehab programme. During a relapse, he returned to a hostel for a period of time and says the loss of a friend there due to drugs made him determined to change his life.

Adam subsequently moved into supported housing for people in recovery, and was introduced to the Beam crowdfunding platform. A bricklayer by trade, he’d never been qualified. This was an opportunity to build on years of bricklaying experience with a formal professional qualification.

“I sat down with someone from Beam and they interviewed me about the difference the qualification could make to my work prospects, and from there we put together a crowdfunding proposal and eventually it went live on the Beam platform,” he says.

Profiles do not include personal traceable information and members can choose to use a different name. Members with higher-risk backgrounds, including victims of domestic abuse, crowdfund without photos and using pseudonyms. 

“There’s a good level of anonymity – your full name isn’t disclosed and there’s no detail about where you live, but at first I was worried I wouldn’t get funded in time,” Adam says.  “I rang my Beam caseworker to say ‘let’s delay it until the next course intake' but he reassured me and then right at the last minute the funding came through in the nick of time.”

Beam were able to pay the course deposit in advance and by the time he started the course, the full funding was in and he was able to buy himself a toolkit. The course he chose lasted four weeks – a short course due to his years of bricklaying experience – and leads to a professional qualification along with the opportunity to move into supervisory roles in future.

How did it feel, hearing that his professional training costs had been back by supporters via crowdfunding? “Pretty unbelievable, really. I am really grateful.”

Since completing the course, Adam has undertaken several pieces of work on a voluntary basis and is using these to build a professional portfolio.

“I went to see the course assessor the other day with all the photos of my work printed out and he said I’m pretty much there,” he says. “I have a few pieces of written work to finish off and then I’m hoping to have my portfolio finished by Christmas. And then, I suppose, the next step is thinking about getting a place of my own.”

Help a homeless person build a new life for themselves, take a look at the campaigns on Beam and contribute to someone’s story.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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