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View Count: 61 |  Publish Date: February 08, 2014
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High-tech resources support the homeless

Like most anyone these days, Thomas Hendrix considers his smartphone a vital link.
Hendrix, 40, resides in a shelter in the Tenderloin, where hes trying to get back in the swing of things after a stint in jail and years with a meth addiction. A newly purchased $25-per-month mobile plan connects him to friends and family, as well as to resources such as e-mail and the Web, which are crucial to finding jobs and housing in a competitive market.
Even for a man without a paycheck on the horizon, thats still a veritable bargain.
No matter your lot in life, it seems the smartphone has become an unavoidable necessity. So the nonprofit St. Anthony Foundation discovered when it polled patrons last year: More than a third had smartphones and about 80 percent had some kind of cell phone.
The revelation spurred the development of what may be the first mobile-optimized website aimed at homeless people and other populations on the fringes. Designed in partnership with customer-service software firm Zendesk, it is the application of Silicon Valley strategy to the very un-Silicon Valley problem of connecting those in need with resources such as food, shelter and free places to use computers.
My first reaction was, Is that really the best medium for this? said Zendesk CEO Mikkel Svane. But the data showed us that it really is.
Megan Trotter, program manager for the St. Anthony Tenderloin Technology Lab, suspects that the number of smartphone users among St. Anthony guests is even higher now. Essential connection
If youre living on the street, this is an affordable way to have this connection to the rest of the world, said Trotter. A smartphone is a smart way to spend your money.
Edgar Aguilar, 24, just bought a smartphone three days ago. Hes new to the city, so among the phones most important features has been its map app. Aguilar is in St. Anthony Foundations addiction recovery program; he regularly uses his smartphones mapping feature to find and navigate to AA meetings. Like Hendrix, hes also found the mobile Web connection a must when looking for work. Using Internet
Also, added Aguilar, Whenever youre bored you can just jump on the Internet.
The new site, Link-SF.com, is live now but makes its official debut at the end of this month. It is only the latest collaboration between the techies at Zendesk and the companys neighbors in Mid-Market.
The Danish company, which has about 300 workers locally, was the first to apply for a community benefit agreement when the city began offering such deals in 2011 to tempt tech giants to the area. Under the agreements, Zendesk and other companies must perform neighborhood outreach in exchange for payroll tax breaks.
Since setting up camp at Sixth and Market streets, Zendesk has been hailed as a model of how tech and the Tenderloin can get along. Clean-cut Zendeskers have become regular fixtures at the Tenderloin Technology Lab and in neighborhood shelters and dining halls. On Friday, Svane was on hand to present a novelty-size check for $141,765 to the St. Anthony Medical Clinic.
I think its a responsibility when you move to a neighborhood to be a good neighbor, said Svane.
In some ways, Link-SF.com is a more natural point of convergence for the tech industry and the neighborhood its beginning to call home.
Unlike many apps, the goal here wasnt a flashy design. Instead, Zendesk tried to make it appear sufficiently low tech to be friendly to people new to smartphone technology. The site shows city resources for housing, food, medical attention, hygiene and technology. Each listing includes how long it would take to walk there from a users current location. Useful resource
Such a mobile platform, said shelter residents Hendrix and Aguilar, could be extremely useful in helping them navigate their often-complex world.
In the St. Anthony survey, 75 percent of respondents said they would use a smartphone app that listed local services. Nearly a third said they had little knowledge of where to find the services they need.
This is a tool we could use to reach our guests outside of our physical space, said Trotter, the St. Anthony technology lab coordinator.
More importantly, it makes use of one of the few resources that many like Hendrix and Aguilar already have available to them.
You need constant Internet access these days, said Hendrix. You just do.
Kristen V. Brown is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: kbrown@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @kristenvbrown

Keywords:
 Aguilar   Anthony   app   Hendrix   hes   mobile   neighbor   neighborhood   phone   resource   resources   shelter   smart   smartphone   tech   Zendesk   the Tenderloin   Tenderloin 

Picture Keywords
 Aguilar   Anthony   app   Hendrix   hes   mobile   neighbor   neighborhood   phone   resource   resources   shelter   smart   smartphone   tech   Zendesk   the Tenderloin   Tenderloin 
Time: 2:27  |  News Code: 366567  |  Site: San Francisco Chronicle
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