Technology may be the key to helping the homeless 

click to enlarge Jeffrey Gottshall's video message that was posted on the Homeless POV YouTube channel helped reconnect him with his family in Pennsylvania. - COURTESY YOUTUBE.COM/HOMELESSPOV
  • Courtesy
  • Jeffrey Gottshall's video message that was posted on the Homeless POV YouTube channel helped reconnect him with his family in Pennsylvania.
San Francisco has long been challenged with how to end poverty. In fact, today’s cover story in The Examiner highlights the sheer difficulty in finding homes for the homeless in The City.

But one local media company may have found a way to help those struggling to get off the streets, according to a column in SF Weekly.

Over the Christmas holidays, employees with NearShot walked up and down Market Street offering homeless people the chance to say a message to their loved ones via video.

What happened next could very well be featured in its own movie.

For more than a decade, Jeffrey Gottshall – a 44-year-old man known to hang out near Old Navy on Market Street – had been out of touch with his family in Pennsylvania. He was even documented as a missing person there by authorities.

But Gottshall’s video changed that.

“Jeffrey left a short message to his father and family and niece and nephew — he mentioned them by name,” Kevin Adler, founder of NearShot, told the SF Weekly. Adler posted the video to Facebook and sent it to organizations and the Police Department in Montoursville, with some hope that Jeffrey's family might see it.

The video “blew up,” said Adler, and soon Gottshall’s sister was even tagged in a post with the video. Soon the Montoursville community, where Gottshall grew up, began a fundraising campaign to bring Gottshall home to his family. His sister and their own kids even made a video for Gottshall, and Gottshall has since been trying to find a way to go home despite some logistical issues.

The purpose of the videos, Adler told the SF Weekly, is to humanize the homeless. Connecting those on the streets to their families is the key.

Indeed, social media has proven to boost the morale – and life – of those without a home in The City. Last year, San Francisco resident Daniel Polk took a photo with a homeless man named Edward who Polk frequently saw outside a Walgreens at 24th and Castro streets.

Polk then posted the photo of himself and Edward on his LinkedIn page, and promised that for every like or comment he received, Polk would donate a dollar to Edward.

The post ultimately resulted in $22 for Edward, and Polk has since published other photos of the pair to help raise money for the disabled man.

Bringing concerns of the homeless population online can have an immediate effect, Polk told The Examiner.

“The smile on his face was incredible,” Polk said of when he told Edward how many likes his picture received. “It was sort of beyond his way of thinking to think that there were people out there who cared about him in that way.”

There are steps being taken elsewhere in The City to help bring the homeless population online. The St. Anthony Foundation, which launched a technology lab in 2008, plans to double the size of its lab this year.

“Being homeless can often lead to extreme isolation, and technology is a way to reduce that isolation and really reconnect people to a lot of different things,” Karl Robillard, a spokesman for the St. Anthony Foundation, told The Examiner last year.

About The Author

Laura Dudnick

Laura Dudnick, a Bay Area native, covers education and planning for The San Francisco Examiner. She previously worked as a senior local editor for, and as the San Mateo County bureau reporter and weekend editor for Bay City News Service.
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