With nearly 9,000 people sleeping on the streets every year, homelessness in London is impossible to ignore. I’ve lived here for most of my life and have always struggled to understand how homelessness can be as huge a problem in a city as wealthy as ours.
For many years, I’d do what thousands of Londoners do – occasionally buy some food for rough sleepers and volunteer at events like Crisis at Christmas. That was until I got to know a homeless man at my local Tube station. I would see him on my way to work every day and buy him cups of tea, or socks when it got cold.
Over time, I got to know him better and this got me thinking – what could I do to help him move away from homelessness for the long-term? I’ve always been interested in connecting people online for mutual benefit and I began to wonder if I could do more, using what I’ve learned working in technology.
What if we started by saying that the best long-term solution to homelessness is rewarding, paid work and independence?
What if we could make it easy for someone to make a long-term difference to someone experiencing homelessness, right from their smartphone?
What if we could give people fantastic new opportunities by joining together and helping them get something much more nourishing than a meal – professional training that would allow them to secure a well-paying job?
Being new to the sector, I wanted to make sure this idea was feasible. I quickly set up meetings with some brilliant industry experts like Jeremy Swain at Thames Reach, Stephen Robertson at The Big Issue or Matt Harrison at Homeless Link.
I was prepared for them to tell me why this was a terrible idea. But as I explained the concept of crowdfunding employment training, they all listened. Not only that – they were all openly encouraging and curious about this creative solution.
As the project gathered speed, I began interviewing people experiencing homelessness and ran some user testing at Centrepoint. I wanted to see a spark in people’s eyes, to feel they were excited about the opportunity to get the funding they needed to realise their career ambitions. I also wanted to find out if, in the age of social media, people would not only feel comfortable but proud of online profiles – provided they were positive, safe and dignified.
Soon, I found myself working with Thames Reach and The Connection at St Martin’s to co-create the first version of Beam’s operational model. I chose the name Beam because it combines positivity with the support (as in a structural beam!) that we give to each person on the platform.
More breakthroughs came with innovation grants from the Mayor of London and Nesta allowing us to make our first hire. Beam’s COO and our cofounder Seb Barker came with crucial experience from Thames Reach, Turning Point and NHS England where he designed personalised services. Seb had also worked on the first “social impact bond” in homelessness and was as passionate as me about working in a way that was in equal parts humane and outcomes-driven.
Then we teamed up with a brilliant software developer in the form of Julian Keenaghan who I’d previously worked with. Julian has over 15 years’ experience building software and has built all of Beam’s tech from scratch.
Beam officially launched in September 2017 and we haven’t looked back. Our supporter community now stands at nearly 3,500 individuals helping the men and women on our platform overcome homelessness for the long-term. We have funded more than 100 campaigns and 40 of those people have already secured full-time employment, with many more in training.
We’re also thrilled to have won the prestigious London Homelessness Award, an award for Best Use of Technology in the Homelessness Sector from the sector’s trade body and even Best Tech for Good in the whole of Europe.
But we’re just getting started. We’re planning to empower thousands of people a year to turn their lives around with the support of a community of millions of people. We hope you join us on our mission to end homelessness – together we can solve even the hardest social problems.
Meet the homeless people building new lives for themselves and help them on their way at beam.org