The tech boom in the Bay Area has hit some sour notes, with accusations of gentrification in places like San Francisco, pushing out the middle class.
But one startup is aiming to reverse that reputation by serving those who live in low-income to middle-class neighborhoods, throwing a lifeline to those who need it the most by connecting them with the best information on social services.
“In San Francisco, there are over 6,000 social services you can navigate through and that’s a maze,” said Rey Faustino, founder of the start-up called One Degree. “Low-income single mothers spend up to 20 hours per week looking for different kinds of resources.”
Faustino said One Degree offers a website and mobile app that aims to simplify the search process for social services, describing it as a sort of “Yelp,” listing reviews, ratings, location and other information for everything from affordable housing to medical services to child care.
“We saw folks had old school binders, like literal papers in binders of resources,” Faustino added. “And there were some organizations that were starting to put these binders online, but nobody really doing it well.”
He said the top searches have been for affordable housing. Ironically, it was a search he’d have to make, himself.
“Last year, I was evicted here in the Mission District and had to move,” said Faustino. “So I, myself, used One Degree to find resources. I attended an affordable housing workshop at an organization down the street and I got some eviction counseling through the Eviction Defense Collaborative.”
In fact, Faustino is hoping his service will help to shift the negative attention on the tech boom in the Bay Area that’s included acts like Google shuttle buses getting vandalized.
“We’re striving to prove that tech can be used for good.”
Brian Cuadra is hopeful for One Degree’s success. As an admissions recruiter at the Immaculate Conception Academy (ICA) in San Francisco, getting the word out about the school is critical. Cuadra said it’s been known as the city’s “best kept secret,” and needs to shed that title so others can benefit.
“Every student that attends ICA is placed in a professional job either at a bank, law firm, insurance company or hospital,” Cuadra explained. “And that experience not only provides them an opportunity to gain real world job skills but it also pays for a majority of their tuition.”
The hope is that through One Degree, families who need the help will be able to connect them with social services like ICA.
Vanessa Munoz, a 14-year-old ICA freshman, said that connection is so vital. She said her experience has shown just how big of an impact there is in changing lives when people can take advantage of the best services out there.
Munoz described the violence in her neighborhood in the Bayview district of the city.
“People get shot behind my house,” said Munoz. “In my backyard, there were [SWAT] and police officers trying to catch – I think he was a drug dealer, just because there’s drug dealers all over the place.”
However, her turning point came when her family discovered ICA, which Cuadra said boasts a 100-percent rate in students going to college.
“We’re happy to be a safe haven for students and to find a place where physical fights aren’t a big concern of ours,” said Cuadra.
Faustino said he knows the power of good information about good services, himself. He recounted a story from his childhood as personal inspiration.
“My parents came back home devastated. My mom was crying because a lawyer swindled us of our life savings, and this was because they didn’t know who to trust,” said Faustino.
He said the demand seems to be out there with the company growing at an average of over 170-percent month over month for both users and the number of unique searches on the site. It’s been so successful, the company is now focused on expanding to the South and East Bay areas, which is set to be complete by the end of the year.