Alms for the poor: How this mobile app could help fight homelessness in Colorado

by April Bohnert
November 22, 2017
Almaste nonprofit tech homelessness Colorado
Photo via Shutterstock.

Almsgiving — the act of giving to those less fortunate —  is a centuries-old concept. It appears prominently in nearly all major religions and was, for generations, a common part of day-to-day life.

But in today’s fast-paced, consumer-driven digital world, these small acts of generosity have all but faded.

So when Jerry Caropolo was walking down Pearl Street in Boulder one day, and saw a homeless man with a sign reading “Alms for the poor,” it made him pause and think.

What if technology could be used to restore the old tradition of almsgiving?

“I felt a connection with this man but didn’t know how I could contribute without having cash on hand,” he said, echoing a familiar experience. “I wished there was a way I could donate digitally, and that got me thinking about the broader challenge of homelessness in Colorado.”

In June, Caropolo began laying the groundwork for a mobile app called Almaste that would enable users to make small, cashless donations to homeless people in their area, leveraging resources and programs already in place. In the months since, he’s mounted a team of 10 leaders and board members and, with their help, developed partnerships with local organizations and earned 501(c)(3) non-profit status in Colorado.

Almaste nonprofit tech founders Colorado
Founders Jerry Caropolo and Amy Fox. Photo courtesy of Almaste. 

The app will connect users with profiles of homeless people in their area, enabling them to read more about who they are, what their story is, and what resources they need most. The recipients of those alms have corresponding “beacons” that can then be taken to a partner non-profit to redeem for goods and services they truly need. The homeless participants meet with a caseworker who provides guidance and support, and can help them set goals and make meaningful steps toward getting off the streets.

“There are some amazing services already in place, particularly in Denver and Boulder and the surrounding areas,” said co-founder Amy Cox. “We don’t want to come in and say ‘We’re going to reinvent how you do it.’ The idea of this is to provide a tool for caseworkers to use — as well for the recipients to use to either access the services that maybe they didn’t know existed or to incentivize them to stay in programs. It’s a reason for them to go back and meet with their caseworker.”

Technology enhances the way we live. It’s time to improve the way we give.”

The Almaste team is currently in the process of raising funds both to support the initial development of the app and to begin supporting the homeless population in the community, as well as deepening relationships with homeless organizations in the Denver and Boulder areas.

“We want to tap into this theme that we spend so much money, so much talent, so much brain power on consumerist applications of technology,” Caropolo said. “We’ve seen entire industries revolutionized, yet we haven’t seen the same kind of disruption and excitement around the nonprofit space. I like to say, ‘Technology enhances the way we live. It’s time to improve the way we give.’”

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