Watch CBS News

S.F. entrepreneur aims to bring free solar power to the unhoused

S.F. entrepreneur aims to bring free solar power to the unhoused
S.F. entrepreneur aims to bring free solar power to the unhoused 03:06

SAN FRANCISCO -- For the past 18 months, Zac Clark, a senior at the University of San Francisco, has spent every minute of his free time meeting with investors, securing funds and testing prototype after prototype.

"We're really anticipating a good response but, of course, you never know until you actually do it," he said.

He is now about to launch his new product but, no matter how the day goes, Clark won't make a penny from it. In fact, he'll be giving away all his inventory to complete strangers.

Four years ago, Clark, got an apartment in San Francisco's Tenderloin District, an area with some of the highest levels of homelessness in the city.

"Seeing this being a way of life in a city that has so much wealth -- and not just wealth but innovation and creativity -- I wanted to use some of that creativity and innovation for something meaningful," Clark said.

That's when he and his friends came up with an idea: a high-tech backpack they call the Makeshift Traveler. It comes with a sleeping bag, a flashlight and a radio as well as a list of services for those living on the streets.

The one the thing that really sets it apart is a solar panel designed specifically to charge mobile phones.

A 2018 study showed 72 percent of homeless people living the Bay Area have cellphones. They connect the unhoused to essential services but keeping the devices charged can be a challenge.

Leonard Essley has been living on the streets for almost two years. A U.S. Army veteran, he's been working on getting a subsidized apartment but keeping in touch with the VA has been difficult.

"You can have a phone but if it's not on it can't help you," he said.

As soon as he plugged his cellphone into one of Clark's backpacks, it came to life.

"Wow! This is amazing!" he said.

The reception Clark got was  bigger than anything he had imagined. Although he won't take any money from the homeless for his backpack, he will accept other forms of payment.

Wendell McKay was so grateful for the backpack, he offered to play him a song. Clark, visibly emotional, took it all in.

"To be honest, I'm still at an all-time high right now," he said choking back tears. "I have yet to process it but I know that, once we get home later today, it's going to be pretty emotional."


Makeshift Traveler

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.