Homeless people and cloud computing… what?

Have you ever passed a homeless person in the street and tried to ignore that slightly guilty pang that ripples down your spine at their unfortunate plight? I have, particularly when passing people armed with carboard signs and McDonalds cups half full of loose change.

Despite the fact I do not reach into my pockets for the assorted beggars along Sydney’s iconic George Street, I still like to believe I am a good-natured individual and give where I can, particularly if I pass a vendor spruiking the latest edition of The Big Issue.

Quite a few years ago, I was delivering a soap-box style speech to my house mates about how the government should do more for those unfortunate people who are never sure where they were going to sleep that night. My oration was greeted with a few commiserating nods as we assured ourselves that our federal legislators needed to step up and deliver — though one dissenting voice belonging to my friend Andrew Geelen told me to put up or shut up, and outlined that if if everyone in Sydney donated one hour of their time per month we could practically wipe out homelessness. A bold claim and most likely not accurate, however it did inspire me to go put in a few hours at Teresa House where Mr Gheelan volunteered.

I lasted all of one month before I packed it in as being too hard.

What has this story got to do with technology? Or more specifically cloud computing (that is what this blog is for after all).

Well, the truth is I was blown away by the tale of Andrew Everingham (must be something about the name Andrew) who is the director for strategic assets at Salesforce.com Marketing, Asia Pacific.

Two years ago, Everingham was sent to a marketing conference in San Francisco where part of the activities was a ‘volunteering day’ that sent the assorted executives out into the sunshine to get their hands dirty.

The group which Everingham ended up with was sent out to a Homeless Connect event, where those without a roof to call their own are brought together in the same place as service providers that can help them out. This includes health care providers, social security officials, housing assistance officers as well as an abundance of clothes donations and a mighty cook-up.

“I really approached this event with a sense of blindness. Homeless people used to be made of glass to me — I was aware they were there but I would see straight through them,” he recalls.

“I turned up at the venue and it took about 15 minutes before the plight of homelessness sunk in.”

The spectacle so touched Everingham that he decided to bring the initiative back home to Sydney and reached out to the Mayor’s office, where Clover Moore was quick to come on board along with a number of other organizations.

Everingham realized quite early on that he wasn’t the pioneer he thought he was — Brisbane had actually run a Homeless Connect event as early as 2008.

Fast forward to June of this year and the home town of the coat-hanger bridge and the seashell opera house hosted it’s inaugural Homeless Connect event in the newly-renovated Town Hall.

Peter Durie (left) and Andrew Everingham (right) at Homeless Connect Sydney.

Though coy about whether he personally twisted any arms to make it so, Everingham explains that basically the entire Sydney office of SalesForce.com got involved with the running of the event, as well as a number of other organizations — including the basketball starlets from the Sydney Kings who dropped by.

“We had 60 organisations in one place, with over 300 volunteers and over 1,200 guests with donated products and services to the value of $250,000. We served over 1,000 sausages and 750 roast dinners,” explains Everingham.

While there are countless cases of companies doing good things to fulfil their corporate social responsibility charters — and they don’t always grab the media attention they deserve — this particular instance struck a chord with me because of the momentum coming from the business community teaming up with government organisations (though they may have been corralled into helping out by Sydney’s firebrand of a Mayor).

Lunch time in Town Hall.

It might not sound like much, but having to go through dozens of different departments — each with their own mountain of paperwork for you to fill out — can be a headache for anyone, esxpecially when the stakes are basic services that the rest of us take for granted. Having all of the organisations brought under one roof for homeless people to access is a good thing, particularly when they are referred to another department that is within pointing distance.

Top Image credit: James Fischer//Flickr, royalty free


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