- Associated Press - Friday, November 27, 2015

DALLAS (AP) - A shower. A meal. A place to sleep. Those basic needs come to mind when most think of the homeless.

Our Calling, a Dallas nonprofit, has given the homeless an iPhone app. The faith-based nonprofit is using technology to help people who live under bridges, near crack houses and in encampments.

The Our Calling app can be used by the homeless to find shelters, food pantries, free meals and job training. Others can use it to snap a photo to direct staff and volunteers to the GPS location where a homeless person may be in need.

Wayne Walker, executive director of Our Calling, learned about the power of technology while working as a software developer during college and seminary.

He discovered that many homeless people didn’t know where to turn for food or shelter - and they sometimes got bad phone numbers or directions. He started a website, helpimhomeless.com, with a list of local resources. Later, he created a booklet of resources printed in a large font with ink that won’t smear in the rain.

The booklet is now used by police, Dallas residents, homeless people and Our Calling’s “search and rescue” teams. The volunteer teams visit camps, wooded areas and other sites to bring water, food and clothes. They encourage the homeless to move into shelters and direct them to support services, such as drug treatment and counseling.

Almost every day, Walker told The Dallas Morning News (https://bit.ly/1Ngs2Rk), he answers calls from homeless people who live across the country and find the group’s website.

Our Calling also uses a robust mobile database. Staff and volunteers use iPads to record interactions with each person, who is listed by name, photo and personal history. The database has helped flag women who may be victims of domestic abuse or keep track of a person’s medications. It can help staff remember the name of someone’s spouse or a prayer request.

Once, a woman called and said she was ready to move into a shelter, after years of living by a dumpster. She asked for a ride and hung up. Staff used her first name and the database to find her.

Our Calling’s iPhone app, launched in July, is like the website and resource booklet, but on steroids, Walker said. The app is called Our Calling. An Android version will launch by January.

Apps across the country have different approaches to help the homeless. One app maps the location of the homeless in New York City but offers little assurance of follow-up. An app in San Francisco pulls up PDF files of shelters. Others enable donations with a click of a button.

Walker said nonprofits often don’t have money to develop an app or may question whether it’s worthwhile. The Our Calling app cost about $15,000 to develop. But already, he’s seen the app at work.

About 700 people have downloaded it so far. Our Calling has received photos and reports about homeless encampments as far away as Boston.

He’d like every city to have an app that people can use when they pass a homeless person.

“Everybody wants to do something when they see a (homeless) guy,” he said. “This answers the question: What should I do?”

Board chairman Chris Dance used the app when he saw a panhandler at a street corner near his home. Instead of giving money - a practice that Our Calling discourages - he rolled down his window, talked to the man and told him where he could find a meal.

He said despite the price tag, the app was a “no-brainer.” It could inspire hundreds or thousands of interactions that help the homeless.

“There are plenty of meals and plenty of clothes out there,” Dance said. “There’s no shortage of that for the homeless community. The thing we’re short on out there is relationship-building.”

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Information from: The Dallas Morning News, https://www.dallasnews.com

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