To Solve Homelessness: Understand, Dignify, Do

The world is before you, and you need not take it or leave it as you came in.
— James Baldwin
Photo Credit:  Jessica Sabogal

Photo Credit: Jessica Sabogal

As I sit at my desk in the HandUp office, I look out the window and down onto an all too familiar scene. It’s 5 pm and two people are lying on the ground, seeking sleep on the cold, hard sidewalk, where James Baldwin’s poignant quote is painted on the brick wall above them. A bag stuffed with clothes is their shared pillow, their items are gathered at their feet. This bustling alley between Mission and Market, like many public spaces in the Bay Area, is a momentary resting place for the weary, a claiming of some tiny moment of peace in a painful struggle. On the surface it seems San Francisco has become all too comfortable with alleys like this across the city.

Symptoms of the systemic failure that is homelessness, like this alley, are found at every turn: discarded needles and empty bottles, tent communities under every highway overpass, shelter lists over 1,000 people deep every single night, thousands of lives broken. As these symptoms overwhelm our city , the story most of us form is that San Francisco’s homelessness issue is uncontrollable. My colleagues and I at HandUp, however, feel there’s a different story to tell, a crucial reframe that shows you that tangible change is happening right now, and that you can be a part of it. This is not an intractable crisis, it is a fixable challenge with proven solutions. It is a narrative we can all find our place for impact in as fellow citizens of San Francisco. We must see through the crisis to the heart of homelessness.

Photo Credit:  Rachel Heydemann

Photo Credit: Rachel Heydemann

Since June 2015 I’ve dedicated myself to the work of unraveling the issue that is homelessness, when I first entered this space as a volunteer upon quitting my job at Google. Working at Google was a huge privilege, and I am proud of both my time there and the company itself, but like many tech employees, my relationship to the city became one of leisure. My identities as engaged citizen or active community member were slowly eroded. There simply wasn’t time. For the last 2 years I’ve had the opportunity to partner with incredible organizations that have taught me the depth and breadth of this issue. I’ve become a full-time independent nonprofit consultant committed to affordability and homelessness.  I’m not an expert but working toward a more equitable world is my path and advocating for this issue, alongside my partners at HandUp, is important.

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The Bay attracts brilliant minds, explosive wealth, and deep empathy, and we can leverage this to solve one of the messiest, most complicated systemic issues of our time. What I’ve found in my 2 years of investment in this issue is that most of us simply don’t know what to do. Despite an obvious desire for resolution we find ourselves caught between apathy to overwhelm. This is why we must shift the story, and unpack the complexity. Change is happening right now and we have the power to magnify it. Our region has a rich history of progressive values and fearless innovation, and we are being called upon to uphold our heritage.

Photo Credit:  Rachel Heydemann

Photo Credit: Rachel Heydemann

We won’t explain this perfectly or answer every question, but over the next month we aim to break down the complex pieces of this intersectional problem. In our series we’ll feature organizations tackling this issue, share resources from experts, highlight proven solutions, and show you how you can make a personal impact right now in a way that’s clear, and empowering. This is our work to do, as a community. Together, we can end homelessness.

Starting today, follow our #UnderstandDignifyDo Series @HandUp on Twitter and Facebook, and follow me @heyrachelb to stay tuned, share questions, learn more, and take action.

What Can You Do With HandUp Fundraisers?

Since January 2016 HandUp Campaigns have been helping nonprofit organizations raise money online to support their missions, and that couldn’t have happened without generous donors like you. That’s why we launched an exciting new product to help you do more, HandUp Fundraisers. Fundraisers is a tool that allows you to advocate and raise funds on behalf of a currently running HandUp Campaign. Through Fundraisers, we wanted to give you a way to go beyond giving and be more directly involved with the causes you support. Now you can become a champion for any HandUp Campaign, maximizing your impact through “peer-to-peer fundraising”.

When we finished building Fundraisers I couldn’t wait to try it out myself. Making a donation to an organization really can change lives, we see that every day at HandUp. But I wanted to try something new, I wanted to rally my network for a particular cause, Code Tenderloin’s Summer Campaign, which stood out to me personally for many reasons.

The Tenderloin is one of San Francisco’s poorest, most ethnically diverse and densely populated neighborhoods. In recent years the community has been at a crossroads with the influx of tech companies moving into the area, at times causing conflict. It’s this divide that Del Seymour, who spent 18 years homeless on the streets of the Tenderloin, is trying to bridge. He started Code Tenderloin to help people in the community and other struggling neighborhoods get jobs at tech companies. Right now Code Tenderloin is running a HandUp Campaign to raise $50,000 for their intense job readiness and coding courses.

As an engineer myself, I feel strongly about increasing access to software engineering as a skill and growing a more inclusive tech community. Future projections say that being able to code will be increasingly valuable making it an influential tool for empowering people. I also used to live and work around mid-market and I still feel a strong connection to the area. In fact my experiences in the neighborhood during that time were a significant factor in my decision to join the team at HandUp. I also wanted more of my friends and connections to know about Del’s great program and support it too, and a Fundraiser would allow them to do this. All things combined, Code Tenderloin strikes a chord with me and their HandUp Campaign was the one I chose to support.

How Can You Start Your Own Fundraiser? 

Everyone wants to help, but time is limited - with that in mind, we designed and built Fundraisers to be quick and simple. All you have to do is click the “Create A Fundraiser” button on the page of the HandUp Campaign you want to support. It’s that easy.

Most of us don’t have fundraising experience either, that’s why we give you a little help from the experts. Each Fundraiser pulls information directly from the detailed Campaign put together by our nonprofit partners, so that you get right to making an impact. However, if you’re feeling inspired you do have complete control to customize the “Headline” or the “Story” to let people know what you’re fundraising for and why. Adding a personal twist like this is a great way to engage people.

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You can also change the "Fundraising Goal" Fundraiser to an amount that’s more manageable for you, like I did. Code Tenderloin’s goal of $50,000 is a little bit beyond my fundraising ability, but I’m confident I can rally $1,000 to feed directly into their greater goal. As soon as you click the “Save” button, any edits you make are published immediately. You can see my Fundraiser here. 

After a bit of customization, my Fundraiser was ready to share with the world. Luckily the social sharing tools on your Fundraiser’s page make this really simple. We suggest email and Facebook as two of the most effective ways to reach potential donors, but anything that gets your cause out there is good. Reaching out to specific people with an individual message is the best though. I had told my friend Jim about the Code Tenderloin campaign on HandUp because he lives in the Tenderloin and cares about economic equality. Now I can share my personal Fundraiser with him and we can take action together.

Take a look at our active Campaigns and see if there’s a cause you want to support!




Interested in HandUp Matching Funds?

Matching funds can be used with HandUp Campaigns to increase the impact of donations, add momentum to campaigns, and incentivize donors.  If you would like more information about matching funds, please email

An example of how Matching funds work

An example of how Matching funds work

HandUp Campaigns are custom online fundraising pages used to promote a number of different causes. You can learn more about HandUp Campaigns here



3 Fundraising Campaigns Do's and Don'ts


  • DO be detailed. This is how you can emotionally connect with your donors so make sure your story is interesting and informative. 
  • DON'T forget to outline your goals by answering questions like who are you impacting, what is the time frame? and how can donors help? 


  • DO engage your donors by responding to comments, posting updates, and sharing pictures to encourage future donations. 
  • DON'T be afraid to repeat yourself. It can take time for donors to get to know your campaign, so send multiple e-mails to let them know how to get involved. 

Social Media

  • DO plan your content. Take advantage of social media by planning clear and thoughtful content that helps donors focus on your campaign. 
  • DON'T tweet before you seed. Donors like momentum! That's why we suggest waiting until you've hit 30% of your goal before promoting your campaign on any social media. 

Interested in online fundraising? Start your campaign with HandUp!