INNOVATION: One Woman’s Mission to Galvanize the LA Tech Community to Get More Involved in Helping the Homelessness. Nancy Hammerman Leveraged Her Extensive Network and Social Entrepreneur Experience…

The senior vice president of an LA investment banking firm, who has a passion for social entrepreneurship, is on a mission to get the LA tech community more involved in helping the homeless.

The statistics are startling, despite homelessness being a major quality-of-issue life in LA proper, as well as the county, for the last decade. And,depite a lot being done by the city and county governments, as well as nonprofits to help.

The count of homeless numbered nearly 59,000 in 2019, a 12% increase from 2018. In the city of LA, there were more than 36,000 homeless, representing a 16% increase. The city estimates that 75% of its homeless population lives outdoors.(These stats are from the 2019 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count prepared by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, June 2019 and previously reported by the New York Times).

One person thought the tech community wasn’t doing enough to help — Nancy Hammerman of Sutton Capital Partners, who’s been engaged in nonprofit volunteering and board work for more than a decade.

(Her firm focuses on middle-market tech companies and advising entrepreneurs in software, tech-enabled outsourced services and digital tech.)

All of Hammerman’s previous experience coalesced to catalyze her. She oversees research for Sutton Capital Partners, so it was natural for her to do some due diligence as to who the thought leaders are in LA, and reach out to them.

Her fascination with social entrepreneurship inspired her to be a partner in Social Venture Partners for10 years. That’s a global network of local partners comprising volunteers, parents, community leaders and philanthropists working for the good of all.

She’s also been a coach to entrepreneurs.

U.S. Lags Behind in Helping the Homeless

And, she’s traveled all over the world, witnessing “extreme poverty” firsthand.

I’ve also seen how the poor and under-served have a chance to get on their feet in many countries, but not so in the U.S.” she told OCSN. “We are the richest nation in the world, and yet LA is the capital of homelessness.”

Everyone always talks about LA being an innovator,” she continued. “Can’t we be (that) instead of No. 1 for homelessness? Can we conceive by 2028, when the Olympics come to LA, that we’ll have a city that we can show off proudly?

She noted that Amazon is building a homeless shelter inside its Seattle HQ. The shelter is expected to be the largest family shelter in Washington state and Amazon employees will have opportunities to volunteer there, according to news reports.

“People involved in tech are solutions-oriented,” she said. “LA is experiencing a tech boom, so this is an unprecedented time for those involved in the tech ecosystem.”

So, how to actually get tech leaders involved?

Hammerman felt the best way was to engage key thought leaders in meaningful conversation and find feasible parts of the challenge that tech could help resolve.

First Event

She organized an inaugural event late last year in Santa Monica, which convened the LA tech and investor community for an evening of “connection and action.”

Close to 200 people showed up. The event was sold out with a waiting list.

The two featured vendors help the homeless. One was The Giving Keys, which hires people transitioning out of homelessness. It’s at about 50 employees now; the team upcycles old keys to make jewelry. The other was Gifts for Good, which focuses on corporate gifting.

LA Startup Already Using Tech to Help the Homeless

One of the startups that was featured was Safe Parking LA.

It helps homeless families and individuals with “safe parking lots,” so-called because the organization provides specific areas where those living in their cars can park at night, and have access to restrooms, protection from a security guard and social service resources.

Its one of four safe parking providers in LA. Applicants, who want referral to social services as well, apply online and are thoroughly vetted. There’s more than 10 locations including Koreatown, West Hollywood and the Department of Veteran Affairs Campus in West LA.

But the organization can only meet the need for a fraction of the 15,700-plus people living in their vehicles each night in LA County (stats provided by LA Homelessness Count 2018).

And, one of the many obstacles they face is expired registration tags.

That’s where the tech comes in.

Safe Parking LA Executive Director Scott Sale, along with Associate Director Emily Kantrim, brainstormed how to help with the lapsed DMV registrations when they were introduced to Kelly Kimball, chairman of Vitu

That’s an online registration renewal platform for managing vehicle-to-government (V2Gov) transactions in multiple states, as well as across multiple locations.

Kimball generously offered to take care of the lapsed DMV registrations, as well as pay for overdue parking tickets for current Safe Parking LA clients.

Why the empathy for the homeless?

When Kimball was a child, he lived in a car with his family more than once.

But Kimball wanted to help even more. He then held a company-wide meeting to explain the cause he was supporting.

And now in the works: a Vitu app that would enable parking lot attendants and security guards to quickly check in homeless individuals who have secured a space in a parking lot overnight.

A Venice NonProfit Helping the Homeless

Another speaker at the event last year was Ericka Odom, who spoke on a panel about workforce development, specifically about Codetalk, a 15-week coding program offered by St Joseph Center in Venice. See recent article on Codetalk here.

This program helped her by providing — free of charge — coding skills, as well as exposure to the tech industry, along with a mentor.

She was given training for an entry-level position in the tech industry, as well as interview training, resume writing workshops and assistance with applying for jobs.

Odom said she believes more companies can help by sponsoring training programs similar to Codetalk and by providing employment opps for people from non-traditional educational backgrounds.

She also suggested that companies partner with Codetalk to create internships for grads.

“The tech mindset has an agile, disruptive approach to an intractable and complex problem,” she said..

St. Joseph Center and Codetalk are “like nothing else I have ever experienced,” she added. “I had really lost hope and direction and my life was falling apart. …This program enabled me to help myself, through hard work, commitment and determination. I would never have been able to afford a bootcamp and the experience is priceless.”

Snap Inc., the parent company of Snapchat, was one of the original funders of Codetalk.

Mobile Campaign to Help the Homeless

Part of the November event also featured a text-to-email campaign where attendees could donate to the nonprofit partner organizations via a tech+homelessness fund.

This campaign was facilitated by a partnership with Pledgling, with HQ in Venice that connects brands with causes and creates mobile cause campaigns.

“I was amazed by the generosity and outpouring of support by the tech community,” Hammerman said, declining to disclose how much was raised by the event.” 

Annenberg Tech’s Contribution

AnnenbergTech, part of the Annenberg Foundation, was also part of the Sutton Capital Partners’ event.

“AnnenbergTech was pleased to help host Tech & Homelessness…as part of our efforts to raise citywide awareness of, and engagement with, the crisis of homelessness and affordable housing, a representative with AnnenbergTech, who prefers to remain anonymous, told OCSN.”

What’s Next?

Hammerman is toying with different ways to look at how she can forge more partnerships within LA’s tech ecosystem. And get their employees engaged – whether it’s volunteering with nonprofits or mentoring the homeless to help them get work.

One of the ideas she’s marinating on is a city-wide initiative to support social entrepreneurs by offering an “entrepreneur-in-residence” program, which would place these innovative entrepreneurs who are developing tech tools to address homelessness in tech companies and VC firms.

Hammerman said she remains open to new ideas to help the homeless. If you’re interested in learning more, please contact her via the Tech+Homelessness website.

“I’m taking a step back now to think about, ‘What and how can I take this to another level?’ she said.

About The Author

Deirdre Newman is a long-time journalist, who's covered OC startups for a few years.

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