After a decade spent waking up on the street, in police cells or in the hospital due to drinking, Joe — who is now 37 — knew he had to change. His addiction meant he had missed many appointments to see his daughter, and he felt he was out of chances.
“By the end of it I was sick of it. I was nigh on wanting to end my own life, and when I made some real plans to do that, that’s when I got a reality slap,” Joe said.
After going through detox, getting clean and moving to a homeless hostel, he had another problem: How to save the ￡1,100 (US$1,516) he needed to pay for qualifications to work as a crane rigger on construction sites while living on welfare.
However, in less than a week 19 strangers contributed the money for the course.
Joe has been sober for a year, is in full-time employment and is looking forward to traveling abroad to Turkey with his daughter for the first time for a vacation.
He also left the homeless hostel and has his own place.
Joe was the first person to be crowdfunded through Beam, a social enterprise that helps people move on from temporary accommodation.
“I’m forever grateful for it. It’s actually amazing, it really is. I feel lucky every day,” Joe told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Homelessness has risen in England over the past six years, with 80,000 families in temporary accommodation, including more than 120,000 children, government data showed.
Including those sleeping rough, the charity Shelter said as “a conservative estimate,” 307,000 people are homeless in Britain.
Beam founder Alex Stephany was moved to start the social enterprise after wondering how he could have the most effect on homelessness.
“I felt very powerless. For me the problem was: I have five pounds in my pocket and I want an individual to move from being homeless to not being homeless,” Stephany said. “What were my options? Very limited. A coffee, a sandwich, money?”
“I want homeless people who have passions and ambitions and talents to have some of the same opportunities that I had — to learn new skills and maybe build a new career for themselves. So why couldn’t we invest in their futures?” he added.
Having previously raised ￡5 million through equity crowdfunding site Crowdcube for car parking technology start-up JustPark, Stephany decided there was an opportunity to crowdfund for homeless people.
Beam’s Web site has a short story about each beneficiary — known as a member — a breakdown of how much it will cost for them to get the qualifications for their desired job and a target schedule for their path back to work. Members are referred by homeless charities.
Donors, of whom there have been 1,500 to date, can support individuals or spread their contribution across everyone on the site. They can also send messages of support to individuals.
It is that personal aspect that prompted Darren Lampert, a 41-year-old business analyst for a commodities broker, to set up a regular monthly contribution of ￡20.
“It feels like I’m helping individual people rather than just a good cause. When I’m donating, I’m not donating to Beam, I’m donating to Tony, who wants to become a plumber. You develop empathy for their situation,” Lampert said.
He noticed more homeless people after moving to London, saying that the clear plan for individuals on the Beam Web site is why he has given more than he would have done with a regular contribution to a charity.
“When you see the progress, it’s tempting to log back on and add a bit extra to push them through to funding. The stories are what make you click and donate,” Lampert said.
Beam’s business model means 90 percent of donations go to the members’ work schemes, with the remainder paying for Beam’s overhead and staff of five.
Stephany hopes that in due course all of the money donated through crowdfunding would go to the beneficiaries.
“We are building a model that we think will help thousands of disadvantaged people train up and get into work. We are hoping that local government will commission this service, because it will create lots of savings for taxpayers,” he said.
Since launching in September last year, Beam has helped 27 people, with two having found jobs and most of the others in training.
Those who are employed, like Joe, are asked if they want to “pay it forward” — to set up their own regular donation to help others like them.
“I know what the money is going to do. I know it’s going to help people,” Joe said. “I’ll be giving them money every month until the day I die.”
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