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The Chartered Institute of Housing is the independent voice for housing and the home of professional standards

Community-powered tech to support homeless households


Seb Barker, COO at Beam, shares his understanding on the complexity of homelessness but also how it can be solved through joint working where every organisation plays to its strengths.

Over the past few months, the COVID-19 crisis has shown us that we work best when we work together. Take the NHS, for example, which has been this country’s lifeblood during this time of need. Importantly, though, it’s been an incredible effort bolstered by the communities it serves.

From perfume companies making hand sanitisers for hospitals; hotels offering emergency accommodation for frontline workers; schools remaining open for key workers’ children; an army of volunteers delivering food and medication to hospital staff; to great initiatives like Meals for the NHS - collaboration has been at the heart of our nation’s response to the pandemic.

And while we’ve made mistakes along the way, or been too slow to respond at times, it’s this “crowdsourced” approach to supporting our community during this time of need that’s been most remarkable.

But what exactly is “crowdsourcing”?

Crowdsourcing is an approach to solving problems in which many people come together to make a small contribution to the solution.

And while we’ve seen traditional crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter, GoFundMe, Crowdfunder grow in popularity, I believe there is huge potential for new crowdsourced approaches to help solve a wide range of complex social problems.

To start with, I thought it would be helpful to paint a picture of what this looks like in the context of homelessness, drawing on my experience as cofounder of Beam and having spent a number of years working within the public sector and commissioning, both at Turning Point and NHS England.

This experience has shown me first-hand the complexity of the issue, but also how it can be solved through joint working where every organisation is playing to its strengths: whether that’s front-line work, housing, regulation or technology.

That’s why Beam’s model is built around crowdsourcing work and housing outcomes for disadvantaged communities who are either homeless or at risk of homelessness.

We do this by working with more than 60 charities and forward-thinking local authorities, who refer homeless people to us. We also rely on the public to fund these campaigns, as well as local training providers to equip them with the skills needed to pursue work in their chosen field. Finally we work with employers who hire from our diverse talent pool, and landlords who let their properties to our beneficiaries through our new service: Beam Lettings.

We’re already starting to see the positive results that come when a whole ecosystem of stakeholders who are equally committed to finding long-term systemic solutions to homelessness come together, the findings of which will appear in our upcoming Impact Report developed in partnership with McKinsey and our partner councils.

And there’s no reason why this model can’t be deployed to other parts of society that need it the most. From crowdsourcing support for newly arrived refugees to revolutionising how equipment is funded for people with disabilities, the potential of community-powered technology to support disadvantaged groups is enormous.

By Seb Barker, COO at Beam

Hear more from Seb at his lightning talk session on day two of the International Housing Summit, 30 June – 2 July. Book your place today.

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