New App Connects San Francisco’s Homeless to Support, Services


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Neil Shah holds his phone, which shows a report filed via the app Concrn, flagging the location of a homeless person in need of assistance. Photo credit: Nik Childers.

Blocks away from the upscale shops that line San Francisco’s affluent Union Square, lies the Tenderloin neighborhood, an area known for crime, homelessness and hard-core drugs.

Neil Shah walks these streets on a regular basis. As a compassionate responder for Concrn, a non-profit community-based crisis reporting service, Shah responds to reports of homeless people in distress. By downloading the Concrn mobile app (free on both Android and iPhone), the general public can use their smartphone to report non-emergency crisis situations involving the homeless.

“When people witness an incident involving a homeless person, their first reaction is often to call 911,” Shah said. “The problem is emergency response personnel aren’t equipped to provide the mental health support and follow-up care that many of the homeless population needs.”

Retraining the public to call Concrn, rather than 911 in a non-emergency situation, is a task in itself, yet Concrn strives to do much more. Founded by local entrepreneur Jacob Savage, the non-profit also trains crisis responders to complement the city’s existing resources and reduce strain on 911 and law enforcement. A recent report found that in 2016, the San Francisco Police Department received 57,249 dispatches for homeless related calls.

In addition, the 2017 San Francisco Point in Time count for the homeless found the city’s number of homeless residents to be about 7,500, with 41 percent suffering from an alcohol or drug addiction and 39 percent with mental health issues.

As Shah walked along Eddy Street earlier this month, through the heart of the Tenderloin, he carefully stepped over the discarded syringes and human feces that lined the sidewalk. He discussed a report he responded to earlier that week concerning a homeless man who was standing in the middle of a busy street talking to himself incoherently.