Joe Stempel is a senior consultant in the transfer pricing group at Deloitte. Growing up in the south suburbs of Chicago, he volunteered with South Suburban PADS and saw firsthand the daily struggles faced by those experiencing homelessness. After graduating from the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign in 2016, he moved to Chicago and co-founded Simply Empowered to help those experiencing homelessness and poverty.
Neil Stempel is a licensed architect and LEED accredited professional. Earlier in his career, Mr. Stempel was associated with internationally renowned architecture firm and later an ENR top-50 general contractor. He has practiced architecture in the United States, Europe, and the Middle East, and has managed a Chicago-based construction company. Mr. Stempel studied board governance and nonprofit management at Northwestern University, and has served on the boards of several educational and civic organizations. He has also donated land for construction of a homeless shelter in Cook County, Illinois.
Matt Kent leads digital marketing for the YMCA of Metro Chicago. He spent the last decade running digital programs for Fortune 500 and major consumer brands. More recently Matt has shifted his focus to social justice, founding organizations that focus on homeless empowerment and racial equity.
Steve Steinberg is the Managing Director of Murphy Asset Management, a Chicago-based hotel asset management, consulting, and advisory firm. He sits on the boards of a variety of educational and non-profit organizations. Steve graduated in 1991 from Virginia Tech with a B.S. in Hotel, Restaurant, and Institution Management. He and his wife have two children and reside in Virginia.
Luis De La Cruz
Our small group of 5 started working in 2017 on a new program to help people experiencing street homelessness. There is a large homeless population in Chicago, and we had been really struck by their plight, but also struck by the numbness we saw from people walking by. Our perspective was that the numbness was not the result of people not caring, but rather the result of a frustration or fatalist view of any efforts to try to help.
The catalyst moment was when several members of our group were walking downtown, and as we passed a homeless person asking for help, an offhand comment was made that wouldn’t it be great if homeless people could take credit cards since we rarely had cash. That quip turned into a conversation about the reasons passers-by don’t give to homeless people. We concluded that the numbness and reasons many people don’t give could be categorized into several “barriers to giving”:
1) the passerby doesn’t have any cash
2) the passerby doesn’t trust how the money will be spent
3) the passerby doesn’t believe that the person is really in need or can’t help themselves
4) the passerby doesn’t believe a few dollars would help the person’s longer- term plight
5) the passerby doesn’t feel comfortable interacting with the person
Surely there are other reasons, too. But we felt like we had captured the majority of the motivators (or de-motivators, more accurately).
This discussion turned into an attempt to help, and as we started that process, several other people joined the group because of the similar interest to see a real impact made in improving the ability of homeless people to get back on their feet.
Our original intent was not to start an organization, but instead to simply work with existing social services organizations who’s mission was to help homeless people. We would help craft the concept, finance and fund-raise for the associated costs of the program, and offer PR assistance during a launch. After a lot of conversations with existing organizations, we realized that social services organizations were not equipped to launch a technology platform like this, however, the interest from these organizations was unmistakable. So because the vacuum existed and the concept was supported by these organizations, we decided to build the platform ourselves.
After a lot of work on this, we have rolled-out a program that helps homeless people with both short-term and long-term needs, enhances the efforts of existing social services organizations already engaged in this arena, and gives everyday folks (like you and me) an efficient and effective way to help.
The concept is fairly simple. We use an online giving platform to crowd-fund for homeless people. But there are catches:
The homeless person can only get the money that is collected via our website if they are working with a caseworker from an existing social services organization. We are not caseworkers or counselors. But we are creating partnerships with existing organizations to help their caseworkers use this tool to create better relationships between the caseworkers and those experiencing homelessness. As long as the homeless person is meeting with their caseworker as scheduled and meeting the goals that have been set for them to help them get back on their feet, then the caseworker and the homeless person will work together to use the crowd-funded money to make purchases that the homeless person expresses are their urgent needs, such as food, toiletries, clothing, healthcare expenses, etc…
This addresses all of the “barriers to giving” listed above:
1) the passerby doesn’t have any cash – no cash is needed, as the giving is all digital
2) the passerby doesn’t trust how the money would be spent – the caseworker works with the homeless person to purchase approved items
3) the passerby doesn’t believe that the person is really in need or can’t help themselves – the homeless person is fully vetted by the caseworker to determine eligibility for the program
4) the passerby doesn’t believe a few dollars would help the person’s longer-term plight – there are existing programs to help homeless people with their long-term needs, and by working more closely with their caseworker, the homeless person can participate in these programs
5) the passerby doesn’t feel comfortable interacting with the person – no physical interaction is needed, since this is entirely digital
For now, the only way to find a homeless person participating in our program is via our website. Passing somebody on the street, you would not know if a homeless person is included in our program or not. But soon, the homeless people themselves will have a designation so that people passing by will know that they can give to those individuals via our site. The social services organizations we work with will perform outreach to the homeless community so that they are aware of the program.
On this site, there is the ability to donate to 3 different “buckets”. Firstly, you can donate directly to a specific homeless person. Secondly, if you don’t feel like you want to “pick” between participants, then you can donate to the pool of homeless people, and we will allocate the money for you. Thirdly, you can donate to our program’s overhead and administrative expenses. There are some expenses, for which we are coming out of pocket. These expenses include such items as insurance, some legal fees to remain an approved non-profit, web-hosting expenses, etc…
Eventually, we will make this program available to any social services organizations that work with homeless populations. It would remain one website, but we would add a sort feature so that donors can choose criteria such as city, social services organization, etc… Also, for now, this is just a website optimized for mobile devices. The cost to create a mobile app is substantially higher than creating a website, so we are waiting to creating an app until we know that the program will endure. Lastly, this is fully non-profit (yes, donating on our site is 100% tax- deductible). We will never use any of the money to put in our own pockets.