Hacking Homelessness: Proposed Solutions

1% Solutions

At the beginning of 2019, I was contemplating what my next adventure should be. I had recently heard about someone doing a “hackathon for homelessness.” Being a startup kinda guy, this really intrigued me. What could we do to improve the world related to homelessness if we got a bunch of innovative thinkers in the room? So, The Cincinnati Region Hacking Homelessness was born.

The purpose of The Cincinnati Region Hacking Homelessness was to bring together the entire community, especially those not usually included in the conversation, and develop new and innovative solutions related to homelessness. Following this event, we would provide support to help bring the best ideas into reality.

It was obvious to us that the event of not having a safe place to live (ie, what’s usually called homelessness), is actually a specific event on a continuum:

Living on the edge, living on the street, living on the edge. Thinking in a broad sense, we were interested in preventing people from becoming homeless, helping them survive while homeless, getting them off the streets, and keeping them in housing once they regain housing.

Any idea that moved the needle 1% was worth considering. Hence, the term 1% solutions. This is important because many people look at a possible solution and say, “That won’t work because [not all homeless would be helped/all homeless are XYZ/etc]”. The reality is that the homeless population is hugely diverse. The roads both in and out of homeless are unique. So, the solutions must also be highly varied.

Then the Lockdowns Happened

Unfortunately, due to the lockdowns of 2020, we had to cancel this in-person event. We tried to shift to an online event. There were potential benefits of going online, including having people participate from around the world instead of restricted to Cincinnati.

However, our experience is that the energy of an online event is simply not compatible with what we were attempting to do. So, the event has been canceled.

Please Take Our Ideas!

However, during the year of planning, we ran across MANY great and innovative ideas for ways to address homelessness. In order to encourage some entrepreneurial-minded individuals, here is a partial list of some of the ideas we collated.

You’re welcome to take any of these ideas and run with them on your own, or reach out to us and see if there are ways we can partner with you or find you other partners. Our goal from the start has been to help the homeless. Even if our originally planned method didn’t work out. We had dozens of more ideas suggested over the year and many can be found in our Facebook group.

This Matters More Now Than Ever

Now, with the lockdowns and massive destruction, they have caused, support for those less fortunate is more important than ever. There are estimates that 20 million more Americans may become homeless due to this economic destruction.

Because of this coming tsunami, we not only allow you, but encourage you to take any of these ideas and run with them on your own. Or feel free to reach out to us and see if there are ways we can partner with you or find you other partners. Our goal from the start has been to help the homeless. Even if our originally planned method didn’t work out.

  1. The Swarm: An online platform using AI by which all members select problems the community wants to solve and the best solution. Seeks 1 billion members at $1/mo. This means $1B / mo to apply to the community selected solution.
  2. 100 Club (100 people, $100/mo)
  3. Microloans
  4. Bluelight:  A fund based on the VC idea that brings successful nonprofit models to new cities.
  5. Innovative fundraising ideas.
  • Self-funded communities to transition people back to housing.
  • Farming or other industries with bunkhouses. Residents learn an in-demand skill. Eat what they produce which reduces costs of the program’s operations. They might have some to sell to raise money. They will get higher quality food than most other circumstances.
  • Build a community of small houses around a central building where services can be provided. Also, include bays where businesses can be incubated. Put it on a farm so they learn farming and have high-quality food to eat.
  • Get a 3 story building. 1st floor is shops. 2nd floor is urban farming. 3rd floor is living quarters. Learn the skills for urban and organic farming. Sell to local eateries so they can have locally, ethically, and socially responsibly sourced produce. Learn to do farming on top of city building. Then as graduation, be given one of those buildings as a customer to start your business and new life.
  • Create a quest in World of Warcraft (or other MMORPG. WoW), an online game that has about 10 million players from around the world. Have the question find solutions directly related to homelessness, or simulate some question where the actions of the players can be interpreted and help answer a specific question. Many of the players are so incredibly smart and are a potentially untapped resource of reasoning and problem-solving.
  • Include a suggestion board and voting up/down ideas in WoW. ie, crowdsourcing and identifying solutions.
  • Give some sort of prizes in various “competitions”
  • Game theory
  • Crowdsource ideas with a prize for the best solution
  • Remove geographic boundaries of help. Usually applies to government money. For example, in Cincinnati, much of the money stops at the river; however, the homeless cross between Ohio and Kentucky at will.
  • Rehab abandoned buildings, especially malls or schools
  • Rehab Campers/RV’s/ Campgrounds/Mobile Home Parks
  • Tiny house community
  • More/better/different shelters based on surveys from shelter residents and community members.
  • Affordable housing
  • Who can we get to say “0 homelessness?” Similar to Kroger’s “0 waste, 0 hunger.”

“Everything in life is marketing and sales,” is a favorite phrase by our founder Michael Barnes. Marketing campaigns with appropriate targeting and messaging can have a huge impact. Here are a few ideas for marketing campaigns that could shift the discussion.

  • Community: this is a phase of life
  • Homeless: Here’s where you go, what you do
  • Community: How to help the homeless
  • Community: It could be anyone
  • Nonprofits: Intro to each other
  • Everyone: here’s all the government programs related to homelessness
  • Community: You use caffeine, a glass of wine or brandy, hours of TV to relax and deaden your stress and pain. Imagine how much more those going through homelessness currently have. Maybe them using drugs isn’t that much of a surprise.
  • A simple list of all service providers or those in the arena.
  • Those in the field often think everyone knows where to get help. Most of the population has no idea.
  • Simple graphic of how to flow through the services
  • Schools always have doctors or NPs
  • Schools are the center of communities
  • Add police stations nearby, to provide extra security and reduce community anxiety about having homeless people near the school.
  • Add services nearby. This is the opposite of centralization of services. Simplify access to services.
  • Better ways to attract and retain employees and volunteers.
  • Build nonprofit consortia
  • Provide executive coaching
  • Nonprofit emotional/psychological counseling
  • “Bob Ziek” to help improve financial processes and decision making. ie, financial wizard helped his temple go from red to black.
  • Nonprofit merging
  • Nonprofit boot camp to teach simple business techniques. Nonprofits are proud they are not businesses (well, they are, but that aside), there are many things the business community does well. Implement those things that help achieve your mission rather than being stubborn and wasting money and allowing your constituents to continue to suffer.
  • Google grants
  • All-weather tents
  • Coats that are sleeping bags
  • Set up Amazon/Kroger style ordering and delivery for food pantry patrons
  • Dentalcare in ERs
  • We’ve been told there are already too many apps for the homeless. So, select the top apps and bring all resources to bear on those specifically
  • LegalShield” for the homeless
  • Financial Planning and education: Keep out of trouble; Grow wealth; Help fix troubles once they occur
  • Digital identity: How can we use Blockchain to uniquely identify people and keep their information together
  • Bank the unbanked
  • Obtain vital records
  • Provide a phone, a phone number, and home address as needed for jobs, housing, government, etc.
  • Genesite for the Homeless (get people on the right meds for ADHD, PTSD, depression)
  • Job search training
  • Food donation boxes: Have boxes on the street. People can just place food in them and those in need can take the food.
  • A concierge throughout the entire process. 1 person as a guide for each person in need. More than a caseworker. Think of a concierge in a hotel. The service you get is utterly different.
  • Organize students to volunteer (Nate did this in Air Force).
  • Organize experiential events. Have people work in a homeless shelter with the explicit purpose to get them to better understand the situation.
  • Fun and exciting events.
  • Faces of [homelessness]: Several books have come out showing people in various situations and telling their story. Humanize people in troubled situations.
  1. Mindset coaching
  2. Speaker coaching
  3. Interpersonal skills coaching
  4. Business coaching. I met a guy on LinkedIn, from England. He used entrepreneurship to get out of homelessness, now teaches others.
  5. Basic financial coaching
  6. Health coaching
  • Use Google data
  • How figure out who moves certain phrases? Choose the ones that are related to homelessness, connect with them, gather momentum.
  • A publicly available questionnaire. It asks about your circumstances. The output of this questionnaire is “Go to this webpage or this organization for XYZ service or next step”

Huge opportunity here, all sorts of solutions possible. We never really got to specific solutions, but this was a top need expressed by many people in some manner related to homelessness.


Michael Barnes
Michael Barnes
Michael Barnes is founder and CEO of Awakened Innovations, Inc. Awakened Innovations helps nonprofits to save time and money by connecting them with high-quality, vetted, service providers. Previously, Michael has been a business coach; Director of Lab Operations at, Assurex Health (a genetic testing laboratory); and built the Cincinnati Biobank and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. Michael’s overarching passion is to help others succeed and fulfill their mission in life.

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