Awareness app helps homeless

USA (New York)

The number of homeless people in New York City’s shelters peaked at 60,670 in January 2015 – and this figure only reflects those who are using the city’s shelters. The number of individuals and families sleeping rough is thought to be massively underestimated.

Conflict between wanting to give money to the homeless and being unsure what the proper actions are is what led “regular New Yorkers” Ilya Lyashevsky, Ken Manning and Robb Chen-Ware to conceive WeShelter. The app works with local businesses and corporate sponsors to help address awareness of poverty and homelessness in NYC and beyond.

When a user encounters someone on the streets, a quick tap of a button unlocks and routes corporate funds to local charities such as Common Ground, Goddard Riverside Community Center, and Urban Pathways. The app is free, donations cost the user nothing and social media shares multiply donations.

This is not designed to replace the traditional route of giving, but raise awareness. After you have unlocked a donation, the app tells you how many people are sleeping in New York shelters on any given night. The creators “don’t want people to stop at tapping the button.” Ilya Lyashevsky, one of the founders, told City Lab. “When people engage in a digital way, they are more likely to engage in other ways.”

The location data provides real-time mapping of poverty, incidents of homelessness and areas where special help is most needed, allowing outreach programmes such as the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) to know how to assist. There is also a button to call 311, the city’s services department, for immediate help by operators who deal specifically with homeless issues. Far from boosting lazy clicktivism, co-founder Ken Manning wants WeShelter to bring tech down to street level, especially encouraging young people: “We hope that we can demonstrate that tech can be used for good in this way.”

Written by

Antony O’Farrell (06 February 2016)


Freelance designer, developer and writer, Antony spends his time between London, Spain and Central America feeding the homeless, righting wrongs and breaking websites.

Project leader

Ilya Lyashevsky, Ken Manning, and Robb Chen-Ware, Co-founders

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