Alex Stephany is the Founder & CEO of Beam, a tech startup working to solve the homelessness crisis.
The company works by enabling the public to crowdfund employment training for individuals who are homeless. Then Beam supports each person until they get into stable, paid work – everything from plumbing to accounting.
“This is about empowering people to support themselves and leave behind homelessness for good,” says Stephany, who’s 38. “But it’s also about providing employers with a new and diverse talent pool.”
There are 320,000 homeless people in the UK, according to homeless charity Shelter. Single mums and children are at the highest risk of homelessness, and the numbers in those demographics are growing.
There are hundreds of homelessness charities in the UK alone, each solving a slightly different piece of the puzzle – from providing support with housing and access to food banks to mental health and addiction services. “At Beam,” Stephany explains, “we work with charities – they refer people to us and then we crowdfund a bright new future for them.”
The catalyst for Stephany was getting to know a man at his local Tube station who was homeless. “I’d buy him cups of coffee and pairs of thermal socks when it was getting cold. At one point, he disappeared for weeks on end. When he reappeared, he looked years older: he told me he’d had a heart attack and had just come out of hospital.”
Despite Stephany’s well-meaning gestures the man’s situation had not improved.
“So I began to ask myself a question: what would it take to make a lasting difference to this man’s life?,” Stephany recalls. “He had never had a job, and clearly lacked the confidence and support to make it on his own. For me, the answer lay in empowering him with the skills, confidence and support to get back into work and provide for himself. Of course, that would cost far more than coffees or socks, but what if everyone chipped in?”
Stephany launched Beam in September 2017 after nine months of crowdfunding. Unlike sites such as GoFundMe and Kickstarter, Beam ensures every campaign is funded at a similar rate; 80% of donations are split between all the campaigns so there is never one that doesn’t meet its target goal, which Stephany says is important to ensure everyone is given the opportunity for employment.
Around 1,000 people donate to Beam’s platform every month, and the money is put towards not just training, but dedicated case workers for each person.
“This individual is in charge of supporting each homeless person through the Beam journey, from the moment they get referred to us, to when they start their training and get into work.”
Beam has so far helped 170 homeless get into skilled work, including one individual named Adam. Adam was sleeping on a church porch, unable to afford to eat or wash properly, when he was referred to Beam by a homeless charity in April 2018. After moving into a homeless hostel, he began his journey towards recovery and stopped using drugs.
He had dreams of becoming a bricklayer, something he already had some experience in already, and Beam raised £3,545 ($4,625) to pay for Adam to get professional qualifications. Now, he’s running his own business.
“We have big ambitions to scale our business to more cities in the UK and further afield, including to the U.S.,” continues Stephany. “We’ve created a highly replicable model and we’ve already been contacted by a number of countries who are keen to adopt Beam.
“My ultimate goal is to build a sustainable business that can change the way in which homeless people access high-quality training and skilled work, and scale this to millions of people worldwide.”