This text-notification service for the DC homeless community is working to expand

Photos courtesy of Hope One Source

Hope One Source, a text-message-based notification service targeted at homeless residents in the District, has grown immensely since it started as a pilot program in September 2015 through D.C.’s Interagency Council on Homelessness.   

Hope One Source, which is completely volunteer-run, has over 1,800 D.C. residents experiencing housing instability signed up to receive text message alerts pertaining to anything from the latest hours and locations of social services, such as food dispensers, when the hypothermia alert is active, and where to seek shelter.   

Over 200 service providers are connected through the service and approximately 500,000 texts of available services have been sent out as of winter 2018-2019. Hope One Source is currently holding many outreach events with users of the service to determine their reach and impact.  

“We are finding many success stories of people using the tool and accessing the tool,” said Frank Adames, an AmeriCorps VISTA working with Hope One Source. “A lot of success stories we get are through outreach events.”  

At one of these outreach events, which Street Sense Media recently observed, four out of the five people using Hope One Source were no longer experiencing homelessness, while they had been when they signed up for the text alerts. Ramondia had just stabilized her housing with help from Hope One Source that day, stating the text messages connected her to food and job-training, and then stable housing. She had previously experienced homelessness for three years within D.C.  

When she first signed up to receive messages, she said, “We went from not knowing to knowing, and everyone was asking how we know this information.”  

Other attendees of the outreach event shared similar sentiments about sharing the information they receive in texts from Hope One Source with their friends and the people around them.   

“Our biggest fear early on was blasting out too many messages, but in reality, you all want more, as you’ve stated today,” said Tim Underwood, the founder of Hope One Source. “We believe that a hyper-connected community that connects people and services is essential for sustainably ending homelessness. 

While conducting research for this story, Street Sense Media talked to several people experiencing homelessness in three different parts of Washington, D.C.: at the United Planning Organization bus stop in front of the Church of the Epiphany, at Miriam’s Kitchen in Foggy Bottom, and near the Tenleytown-AU Metro station.  

[Disclosure: Street Sense Media rents office space from the Church of the Epiphany]

None of the people interviewed had heard about Hope One Source, however, many were interested in the service and believe it would be useful for themselves.  In the future, Hope One Source is looking to add additional features to its program, such as machine learning to further target messages for specific users and allowing users to respond to messages they receive. They are also looking to eventually expand to other cities, but they first want to make sure they are firmly rooted within D.C.  

“The goal is to first be wildly successful within D.C. and then expand to other cities,” Adames said. “We’re doing that very strategically.”  

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We believe ending homelessness begins with listening to the stories of those who have experienced it.