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Beacons Bring Hope to Seattle Homeless

The BLE-based GiveSafe app enables users to be alerted when a homeless person is within their vicinity, as well as view that person's history and make an anonymous contribution.
By Claire Swedberg

The solution started small, Villasana says, with only 70 homeless beacon wearers, but next year, the company intends to raise the number of beacons in use to 500. The system was recently broadcast on King 5 News in Seattle, at which time the number of app downloads grew from 1,200 to 2,400.

The company earns its profit by charging a stipend for each donation. For instance, a $1 donation can come with a 15-cent transaction fee. "This has been a great opportunity for me," says Villasana (who is still a college student), to use his technology education to benefit the homeless. "A lot of homeless individuals are shunned by society, and GiveSafe allows them to share their story."

Andrei Villasana
According to Villasana, the system has proven not only to improve the lives of the beacon-wearing participants monetarily, but also to boost their morale. "It's not just about money," he says. "It's about encouraging them to see new opportunities, to give them hope." The homeless can redeem the beacons at a barber shop, for instance, to receive a haircut to improve their appearance and, therefore, their chance of succeeding at a job interview.

GiveSafe's long-term goal, Villasana says, is to expand the system's use to other cities throughout the United States.

This is not the first radio frequency identification system intended to help the homeless. In 2013, a group of researchers worked together under the name Patchworks to develop an RFID solution to remind the indigent of appointments with doctors, social workers or housing agencies. The team developed a shoebox-size device containing a Raspberry Pi low-cost computer, an RFID reader and a small printer, similar to that in an electronic cash register (see Meet PAT, Siri for the Homeless).

Images courtesy of King 5 News.

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