homeless solar

The San Francisco entrepreneur aims to provide free solar energy to the non-dwelling

SAN FRANCISCO — For the past 18 months, University of San Francisco grad student Zach Clark has spent every minute of his spare time meeting with investors, securing funds and testing prototype after prototype.

“We’re already expecting a good response, but of course you never know until you actually do,” he said.

Now he’s about to launch his new product, but no matter how the day goes, Clark won’t make a penny out of it. In fact, he would give away all of his stock 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.

“Given that this is a way of life in a city that has so much wealth — 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 Traveller. She comes with a sleeping bag, flashlight and radio, as well as a list of services for those who live on the streets.

The only thing that really sets it apart are the solar panels that are specifically designed to charge cell phones.

A 2018 study showed that 72 percent of homeless people living in the Bay Area have cell phones. They connect the non-domestic to essential services but keeping devices charged can be a challenge.

Leonard Eisley has been living on the streets for nearly two years. A US Army veteran, he was working on getting a subsidized apartment but staying in touch with the VA was difficult.

He said, “You can have a phone but if you don’t have it, it won’t help you.”

Once he plugs his cellphone into one of Clark’s backpacks, he springs back to life.

“Wow this is amazing!” He said.

The reception Clark got was greater than anything he could have imagined. Although he will not 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 a song. Clark, who is visibly emotional, took it all in.

“Honestly, I’m still at an all-time high right now,” he said, choking back tears. “I still have to process it but I know once we get home later today it will be very emotional.”

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temporary traveller