Homeless GoPro

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Homeless GoPro: Building empathy through perspective.

San FranciscoDaly City
Year Founded:
Organization type: 
Project Stage:
$250,000 - $500,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Homeless GoPro outfits homeless volunteers with high-definition personal cameras, which they use to capture the world as they see it. These videos ennoble the homeless autobiographers, provide invaluable insights for change-makers, and generate opportunities for interactions locally and globally.

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

What if society didn't define homeless people by their homelessness?
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

There are indispensable service providers to house, feed, and clothe some of the 6500+ people living on the streets in San Francisco and Daly City. We focus on a different aspect of homelessness: the empathy divide between homeless people and society. This divide is damaging to motivation, mental health, and dignity. We would never be identified as “housed” people, yet homeless people are reduced to little more than what they currently lack.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

We change the way homeless people see themselves and their possible opportunities in the world, by changing how other people see them. Homeless GoPro outfits homeless volunteers with GoPro cameras, which they use to capture the world as they see it. By outfitting homeless people with the tools they need to tell their own stories, we remind them (and the rest of the community) that they have a story worth telling, just like anyone else. Furthermore, the content that is captured reveals more nuanced, complicated, and exquisite portraits of each wearer than previously imagined. In this way, we make homeless people more relatable to community leaders, residents, and service providers. We invert Maslow’s pyramid and start with empathy.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

On April 14th, 2014, we soft launched Homeless GoPro with a few short videos on our website. For Adam, our first homeless volunteer, the impact was immediate and profound: “the finances have increased a bit, but the humanity has increased a lot.” As Adam described it, "I feel like I have a purpose in life again. It's something I lost for a long time ... it’s made me want to better myself more." Adam’s story has reached millions and been featured in The San Francisco Chronicle, Forbes, NBC News, PRI, and many others. But more endurably, hundreds of young people and shelters have signed up to bring this project to their communities; longer form content is being developed for TV and web. For more in Adam’s own words: http://bit.ly/adamimpact.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

Adam is one of many. Our nine homeless autobiographers (and counting) experience a renewed sense of purpose as contributors to society in a way that is not nurtured through the provision of services. Our production assistants gain perspective that the homeless are “not so different than me,” as Naoko put it (http://bit.ly/blognao). As empathy increases, so does volunteerism — Adam has seen a 267% increase in donations on his HandUp page, and volunteers like Bristy and Ty have committed to become advocates for the homeless after their 24-hour Immersion Experience. Our filming sessions and the transformative relationships that ensue help us uncover autobiographers’ invisible needs, thereby creating feedback loops for our partners on existent services. As such, one NYC-based housing expert said this project reflects “emerging best practices around homelessness.” More: http://bit.ly/HGimpact

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact?

We unite content and engagement to foster change. We will replicate this process for building empathy in cities that have a strong volunteer interest to start chapters. Our spread model: connect with local service providers to source homeless autobiographers, co-produce meaningful videos, distribute the content broadly, and create opportunities for engagement online, offline, and in schools (through educational curricula). We have formed a media + interaction company to develop longer-form content for TV and film. We will expand to other misunderstood verticals. We believe in empathy for all.

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Build a massive audience. We plan to grow viewers and interactions by following sustainable business models of media companies like Roadtrip Nation that bridge popular entertainment, educational content and engagement at scale. We will initially raise $20K through crowd-funding, apply for relevant grants and encourage donations. But we will generate revenue and sustain ourselves as a media company through network contracts and distribution deals.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

There are media companies that inspire social change, such as Participant Media. There are advocacy campaigns that seek to right a wrong, such as Invisible Children. There are projects that focus on grassroots community building and responsible media in the Changemaker network. And there are creative studios that capture the digital zeitgeist of milennials, such as Portal A. But there are no media+interaction companies that capture stories through firsthand perspective and transform viewers into co-producers, as we are doing through Homeless GoPro. We are pioneers of immersive entertain-ment.

Founding Story

Mark was my uncle. Mark was also homeless. He suffered from schizophrenia and spent 30 years on the streets. Last Thanksgiving, for the first time since he died, I visited his gravesite in Santa Cruz. My dad and Uncle David had chipped in for a plot of ground for Mark to call his own, lest he be forgotten. Poignant as this was, I wondered if there was a better way to commemorate Mark’s story by helping people still living on the streets tell theirs. GoPro cameras, with their wearable point-of-view lenses and too-cool-for-school reputation, were an instant fit in my mind for a project to foster empathy and inclusivity. GoPro donated a camera, my Facebook post outlining the project went viral, and, with a small team onboard, we hit “record.”


Kevin (Executive Producer) left his job in EdTech 8 weeks ago to lead HGP full-time with Erika (COO). The two are an ideal pair: his work as a social capital scholar and startup founder (5x) complements her background in strategy, execution, and theater. Adam (Producer), Emily (Volunteers), Hayley (Synapse-In-Chief), a growing tribe of part-time volunteers, and advisors in philanthropy, production and design give us the support we need to expand.
About You
Homeless GoPro
About You
First Name


Last Name


About Your Project
Organization Name

Homeless GoPro

How long has your organization been operating?

Organization Country

United States, CA, Daly City

Country where this project is creating social impact

United States, CA, San Francisco

What awards or honors has the project received?
Funding: How is your project financial supported?

Friends and family, Individuals, Foundations, Businesses, Customers, Other.

Supplemental Information
On which of the following California counties does your project focus its impact? (check all that apply):

San Mateo, Other.

How does your idea help cultivate empathy skills to strengthen communities and equip young people to become leaders of change?

Homeless GoPro builds empathy through firsthand perspective. Russ, Jimbo, Jessica, and our other homeless “autobiographers” — homeless volunteers who wear the cameras — develop a greater sense of dignity through the capture and storytelling process; “that I’m not a piece of shit,” said Adam. On-site volunteers assist with filming and build impactful ties with the autobiographers. A chapter-based model replicates this process elsewhere. The videos are designed to foster engagement initiatives for young people online (e.g., tweet in a question to a homeless individual) and offline (see partnerships). An educational curricula for students will explore issues of inequality and policy. And a media + interaction company will scale the enterprise.


Cameras, production equipment, and video editors.


We can help other organizations develop firsthand perspective video storytelling around their service recipients.

Tell us about your partnerships

We source our homeless autobiographers through our partners, while we help our partners better serve the people that they serve. Collaborations with the Coalition on Homelessness, PHC, Glide, Lava Mae, and ArtLifting have led to multiple film sessions. Viewers can donate to our autobiographers directly on HandUp and GoFundMe, or have lunch together through our “buy 1, give 1” program at Ike’s Place, the most popular sandwich restaurant in CA.


The significant challenge for Homeless GoPro is one of design: if this project was just a bunch of videos without opportunities for interaction between homeless individuals and the wider community, then we could desensitize our viewership and risk being voyeuristic and exploitative. We overcome this hurdle by seeing our videos as a means for impact rather than an ends. Other risks include the safety and well-being of our homeless autobiographers and volunteers, which we mitigate by only filming in groups, sourcing homeless individuals through partner organizations and always pre-screening.

Does your project use any of the following approaches to cultivate community members as empathetic and collaborative leaders?

encouraging philanthropy, creating a safe space, developing emotional competency, building leadership skills, storytelling, immersion, collective problem-solving, identifying shared values and differences, instilling courage, enabling action.

Target Age Group(s)

13-17, 18-35, 36-64, 65+.


Christine Beggs's picture

Thank you for sharing your entry! I’m wondering whether you might elaborate on regarding how, specifically, you will measure the impact of your project? How are you defining success and what metrics do you have thus far which indicate your project actually increases empathy? Any survey results you can share?