Tech industry looks for students who are…homeless?

Homeless tech education program eyes official launch

homeless-education-techThe Learning Shelter began as an idea — to provide those in need with tech tools, mentors and coaching. And it turned into a “what if?” — a conjecture that asked, “If the homeless had hireable industrial tech skills, would they still be homeless?”

For Founder Marc Roth, personal experience tells him no, and he’s putting this to the test with the official launch of the Learning Shelter, a 90-day live-in tech education program for the homeless with classes that will start in the first half of 2015.

Roth, who’s been recognized by the White House for his path from homelessness to a tech entrepreneur, said the launch will represent the shelter’s first full-fledged program, complete with housing for 10 students and private workspace to learn industrial tech trade skills such as laser printing, 3-D printing, CNC machining, woodworking and other skills.

The shelter’s 2014 pilot program, headquartered at San Francisco’s TechShop, a community-run studio that offers classes and industrial tech equipment, included five students who attended 15 classes each. Roth said three out of the five were able to find jobs during and after the program — some related to their study and others not. But he saw all of them as benefiting from the structure and still able apply the skills.

“There’s something to getting up and going somewhere everyday that motivates” Roth said, noting that to be effective in the next iteration, the Learning Shelter will require dedicated housing and a working area to ensure sustainability. The concept is to fashion eight large shipping containers into a workspace with electric power and bathroom access. Location is still to be determined; however, based on pricing, Roth said he anticipates constructing the site on San Francisco’s southeastern edge with housing nearby.

“If you look on Craigslist for housing prices around the area, there’s some better prices as you get out toward Bay Shore [neighborhoods] — it’s not all ridiculous,” Roth said.

(Next page: Financing what could be a brilliant initiative)