Easing the Tech Pains for the Homeless

When even social service benefits require online access, 365 Data Centers is helping one Bay Area agency keep its clients connected.

July 28, 2015

4 Min Read
Easing the Tech Pains for the Homeless

While most people take for granted the way technology pervades our lives, there is one group that can't adjust as easily: our nation's homeless. As the most basic things we do, such as applying for jobs and social service benefits, move to online processes, those who lack regular access to the Internet can get left behind.

A San Francisco-based non-profit, GLIDE, now counts Internet access and electronic records as among the basic services it provides to that city's homeless. Today, colocation provider 365 Data Centers announced that it is providing free, always-on data center colocation and services to GLIDE on a pro-bono basis and has kept the agency up and running 100% of the time for the last eight years.

"We provide 850,000 meals a year, a free health clinic, afterschool programs, free childcare and anti-violence programs, all focused on the poorest of the poor," explains Kristen Growney Yamamoto, GLIDE's co-executive director. "It's very relational kinds of work, meeting people where they are and seeing how we can help them as they move toward survival and stability."

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Today even access to shelter beds, which provide temporary housing, are tracked and accessed online, she says. That means without Internet access, any stability can be hard to find when you are homeless. Another challenge is keeping track of the basic documents -- birth certificates and social security cards -- that are required for benefits, job applications and other services.

"I have trouble keeping track of these things at my home and I have file cabinets," Yamamoto says. One common sight for her is that of a homeless client desperately rummaging through their life's belongings looking for one of these documents. GLIDE not only helps its clients get replacement documents through online access but can now allow the documents to be scanned and securely stored electronically at 365's Emeryville, Calif., data center.

Those records and other key GLIDE functions, such as its fundraising efforts and the online system through which it recruits and schedules hundreds of volunteers to get the 80 it needs each day, were once housed in a server at the non-profit agency's office, but reliability and powering were a problem. Expansion would have required more space and cooling power than the agency could afford.

The pro bono services 365 provides saves GLIDE $37,000 a year in IT costs, says Michael Kifer, GLIDE's IT & administrative services director. Perhaps as importantly, he adds, the reliability of the services means GLIDE can provide assistance when it is most needed -- in times of disasters, large (such as earthquakes) and small (such as power outages).

The online volunteer systems allows GLIDE to give companies or groups that want to help a link that allows them to schedule their own time, Yamamoto says. That's important in a city where young tech workers are often looking for ways to volunteer. "This generation has grown up volunteering in their schools, so they are used to that," she comments.

For 365, this is a way of giving back to the community, says Keao Caindec, 365's chief commercial officer. "Keeping systems up 24/7 and delivering what they need to keep their systems running is what we do every day," he says. "Given our presence here in the Bay Area, we love to be able to participate and help the community."

For GLIDE, having a secure and scalable technology resource allows the agency to more effectively track what it is doing to make sure its programs are achieving their goals and that resources are being well used. By tracking everything from food supplies on hand for the meal programs to client progress across a variety of programs, GLIDE can more efficiently use the financial resources it has for the benefit of those it serves.

The agency works at the bridge for its clients between their world and the technology realm, but it also advocates when possible for having resources that don't require online access, Yamamoto says. San Francisco, as a community, is known for its compassion, she adds, and as more tech companies have moved north from Silicon Valley into the city, reclaiming some once-blighted neighborhoods, public expectations that they will also give back have risen. "They are sometimes publicly taken to task for not doing enough," Yamamoto says.

This is one example where the giving is real and essential.

— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading

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