SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -- One of San Francisco's biggest tourist destinations is tackling homelessness with a new approach, connecting with those in need and providing a connection to their loved ones.
Union Square is one of the city's most popular spots but its visitors and businesses face challenges when it comes to the homeless population. ""We are trying to conduct business and want to make sure the area is clean and safe," said Union Square Business Improvement District Executive Director Karin Flood. "But at the same time we want to help the people that are out on the streets."
Flood says they've tried everything to find a solution, including working with San Francisco social services, but were unsuccessful. That's when she turned to Kevin Adler, founder of the non-profit group Miracle Messages and a Jefferson Award winner previously featured on KPIX 5.
Miracle Messages reconnects homeless people with their families using volunteers and social media to deliver messages to the families.
"The city is doing what they can," said Adler, "But what I've found is that there's a role we can all play as concerned friendly, humane San Franciscans who all want to be part of the solution and not just gripe about the problem."
Adler is now teaming up with the Union Square Business Improvement District, providing a team of two formerly homeless volunteers to patrol Union Square every day talking to people whose situation they were in once.
Miracle Messages has a global network of more than 1,200 people they call "digital detectives" helping deliver the video, audio or text messages from homeless people to their loved ones where they may be.
Simply reconnecting people with their loved ones can turn a person's life around, said Adler
The most recent Union Square success story is Wayne, who preferred not to use his last name. Through Miracle Messages, he reconnected with loved ones who had been looking for him for years.
"Through the help of his family, he was able to find stable housing in the East Bay," said Adler. "He's now off the streets for the first time in a decade and a half."
Since last October's launch of the Miracle Messages partnership with the Union Square district, there have been 91 interactions and a dozen recorded messages to families. Eight of those have been successfully delivered, with half resulting in a reunion. The numbers may not seem staggering, but for Union Square, any progress is a win.
"We've been able to reach some really hard to reach individuals," said Flood, "People who are service resistant - we've offered and offered and offered - but all of a sudden someone comes along who is formerly homeless to make that connection and they trust them. And they might follow them. So in that way it really has worked."
Soon there will be a Miracle Messages app to allow anyone who wants to participate in the project to be a part of the change.
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