This App Hopes to Build a Support System for Homeless Angelenos — On Their Terms

Eric Zassenhaus
Eric Zassenhaus is dot.LA's managing editor for platforms and audience. He works to put dot.LA stories in front of the broadest audience in the best possible way. Prior to joining dot.LA, he served as an editorial and product lead at Pacific Standard magazine and at NPR affiliate KPCC in Los Angeles. He has also worked as a news producer, editor and art director. Follow him on Twitter for random thoughts on publishing and L.A. culture.
This App Hopes to Build a Support System for Homeless Angelenos — On Their Terms

Days after Doug Weber signed up for the Samaritan app at the suggestion of his case worker, he received his first donations — about $80 in total.

Weber found himself homeless in L.A. for six years after he says he was jilted by a business partner who ran away with his savings. He then found himself at the mercy of several persistent health problems. He was able to find temporary housing through a local nonprofit and get set up to receive food stamps, but for anything else, he relied on the kindness of strangers.

"I bought simple things. Socks, underwear. I went and bought a good leather belt — instead of a cheap one that you buy in a discount store. That was $25 alone — you know, something that's gonna hold up for a couple years and not fall apart."

The money came courtesy of users on the Samaritan app, a kind of Patreon for people experiencing homeless, or a social app introducing communities to their unhoused neighbors.

After a couple years honing its approach in Seattle, the startup is moving into Southern California, where L.A.'s sizeable homeless population and the tech world overlap, from the boardwalks of Silicon Beach to Downtown's arts district, among other places. The app hopes to grow the relationship between passersby and homeless people, beyond the quick exchange of a few crumpled dollars and a grave nod. It also hopes to give homeless users more agency in telling their story.

Samaritan, a for-profit benefit "B-corp" corporation, is partnering with L.A.-based nonprofit Pathways To Your Future to upload profiles of their homeless clients, including a little bit about their life story, the items they're saving for and their goals. Homeless users can also choose to be anonymous.

Users download the app, enter their city and see profiles of Pathways' clients and those of its other nonprofit partners. From there, they can scroll through profiles and donate money toward items users' need or goals they're trying to hit — everything from groceries to making regular AA meetings. The funds are administered by the partner organization — in this case, Pathways — which Samaritan hopes can help ensure the money (which is delivered through a prepaid PEX debit card) goes toward its intended purpose. One hundred percent of the funds go to the homeless users.

Born in Seattle

Samaritan was created in Seattle in 2015 by entrepreneur and filmmaker Jonathan Kumar. It graduated from Techstars' UnitedHealthcare startup accelerator in 2020, and raised $150,000 in seed funding from Jumpstart Health Investors and Right Side Capital Management. It has also received some grant funding from nonprofits, according to Samaritan spokesman Eric Hunter.

Initially, he said, the app relied heavily on beacon technology that would notify users that they were near someone who was looking for a donation.

"When you walk by a person it will notify you that you've walked by them, and allow you to donate to them, which was a big part of our Seattle pilot," said Hunter.

It was essentially virtual panhandling, which also allowed you to offer some encouragement or a kind word.

"We've since phased it out a little bit," he said.

The company still uses the beacons — a kind of keyfob —to allow homeless users to access their funds, but the app is now more focused on giving users the ability to afford "needs" (such as clothing) or give them a congratulatory boost for "action steps" (such as meeting regularly with a case worker) that the users set themselves.

Bill Greco, who oversees Samaritan's program with Pathways, said the idea isn't really about the immediate cash.

"The goal is to get them self-sufficient," he said. "Mentally, financially, spiritually — if you will — to become independent and circle back into society."

Another goal: Building empathy among the app's users.

"When we tell one story of one person's life struggle, it really changes the perceptions that people have about homelessness," Greco said. "This obviously is not going to solve [homelessness], but I think it's going to change, hopefully, people's perception about what the issue represents — with these individualized struggles."

Greco said Pathways clients have established real relationships through the messaging feature on the app. In some cases, users have gone far beyond cash donations, bringing bikes or art supplies directly to homeless people on the app who list the items among their needs.

A series of screenshots from Samaritan's app.

A Boost for Nonprofits

Samaritan hopes to license its technology to more nonprofits like Pathways, which pays a fee for access to the app. Hunter said it's been a fairly successful business model so far.

The partnership helps Pathways attract funding and gives its homeless clients a reason to check in regularly.

"It helps differentiate the organization from the hundreds of others that are out there," said Greco.

"What really intrigues me is that the platform gives these people a voice," he said. "You know, these people are somewhat invisible, but the platform allows them to tell their story, to talk about the positive outcomes they want to achieve and to engage with potential donors."

Doug Weber still has medical bills to pay and worries whether he'll be able to afford his rent -- and he's not counting on the app to help him reach those goals.

"It's not life changing money," he said. "But for somebody who's just trying to get back on their feet... where they're living day-to-day and they're trying to save some money — it's a good thing."
🤠Musk Picks Texas and 🔥Tinder AI Picks Your Profile Pictures
Image Source: Tinder

🔦 Spotlight

Tinder is altering dating profile creation with its new AI-powered Photo Selector feature, designed to help users choose their most appealing dating profile pictures. This innovative tool employs facial recognition technology to curate a set of up to 10 photos from the user's device, streamlining the often time-consuming process of profile setup. To use the feature, users simply take a selfie within the Tinder app and grant access to their camera roll. The AI then analyzes the photos based on factors like lighting and composition, drawing from Tinder's research on what makes an effective profile picture.

The selection process occurs entirely on the user's device, ensuring privacy and data security. Tinder doesn't collect or store any biometric data or photos beyond those chosen for the profile, and the facial recognition data is deleted once the user exits the feature. This new tool addresses a common pain point for users, as Tinder's research shows that young singles typically spend about 25 to 33 minutes selecting a profile picture. By automating this process, Tinder aims to reduce profile creation time and allow users to focus more on making meaningful connections.

In wholly unrelated news, Elon Musk has announced plans to relocate the headquarters of X (formerly Twitter) and SpaceX from California to Texas. SpaceX will move from Hawthorne to Starbase, while X will shift from San Francisco to Austin. Musk cited concerns about aggressive drug users near X's current headquarters and a new California law regarding gender identity notification in schools as reasons for the move. This decision follows Musk's previous relocation of Tesla's headquarters to Texas in 2021.

🤝 Venture Deals

LA Companies

LA Venture Funds

LA Exits

  • Penguin Random House agreed to acquire comic book publisher Boom! Studios from backers like Walt Disney Co. - learn more

Download the dot.LA App

Top LA Accelerators that Entrepreneurs Should Know About

Los Angeles, has a thriving startup ecosystem with numerous accelerators, incubators, and programs designed to support and nurture new businesses. These programs provide a range of services, including funding, mentorship, workspace, networking opportunities, and strategic guidance to help entrepreneurs develop their ideas and scale their companies.

Techstars Los Angeles

Techstars is a global outfit with a chapter in Los Angeles that opened in 2017. It prioritizes local companies but will fund some firms based outside of LA.

Location: Culver City

Type of Funding: Pre-seed, early stage

Focus: Industry Agnostic

Notable Past Companies: StokedPlastic, Zeno Power


Grid110 offers no-cost, no-equity programs for entrepreneurs in Los Angeles, including a 12-week Residency accelerator for early-stage startups, an Idea to Launch Bootcamp for pre-launch entrepreneurs, and specialized programs like the PledgeLA Founders Fund and Friends & Family program, all aimed at providing essential skills, resources, and support to help founders develop and grow their businesses.

Location: DTLA

Type of Funding: Seed, early stage

Focus: Industry Agnostic

Notable Past Companies: Casetify, Flavors From Afar


Idealab is a renowned startup studio and incubator based in Pasadena, California. Founded in 1996 by entrepreneur Bill Gross, Idealab has a long history of nurturing innovative technology companies, with over 150 startups launched and 45 successful IPOs and acquisitions, including notable successes like Coinbase and Tenor.

Location: Pasadena

Type of Funding: Stage agnostic

Focus: Industry Agnostic, AI/Robotics, Consumer, Clean Energy

Notable Past Companies: Lumin, Coinbase, Tenor

Plug In South LA

Plug In South LA is a tech accelerator program focused on supporting and empowering Black and Latinx entrepreneurs in the Los Angeles area. The 12-week intensive program provides early-stage founders with mentorship, workshops, strategic guidance, potential pilot partnerships, grant funding, and networking opportunities to help them scale their businesses and secure investment.

Location: Los Angeles

Type of Funding: Pre-seed, seed

Focus: Industry Agnostic, Connection to South LA and related communities

Notable Past Companies: ChargerHelp, Peadbo

Cedars-Sinai Accelerator

The Cedars-Sinai Accelerator is a three-month program based in Los Angeles that provides healthcare startups with $100,000 in funding, mentorship from over 300 leading clinicians and executives, and access to Cedars-Sinai's clinical expertise and resources. The program aims to transform healthcare quality, efficiency, and care delivery by helping entrepreneurs bring their innovative technology products to market, offering participants dedicated office space, exposure to a broad network of healthcare entrepreneurs and investors, and the opportunity to pitch their companies at a Demo Day.

Location: West Hollywood

Type of Funding: Seed, early stage, convertible note

Focus: Healthcare, Device, Life Sciences

Notable Past Companies: Regard, Hawthorne Effect

MedTech Innovator

MedTech Innovator is the world's largest accelerator for medical technology companies, based in Los Angeles, offering a four-month program that provides selected startups with unparalleled access to industry leaders, investors, and resources without taking equity. The accelerator culminates in showcase events and competitions where participating companies can win substantial non-dilutive funding, with the program having a strong track record of helping startups secure FDA approvals and significant follow-on funding.

Location: Westwood

Type of Funding: Seed, early stage

Focus: Health Care, Health Diagnostics, Medical Device

Notable Past Companies: Zeto, Genetesis


The KidsX Accelerator in Los Angeles is a 10-week program that supports early-stage digital health companies focused on pediatric care, providing mentorship, resources, and access to a network of children's hospitals to help startups validate product-market fit and scale their solutions. The accelerator uses a reverse pitch model, where participating hospitals identify focus areas and work closely with selected startups to develop and pilot digital health solutions that address specific pediatric needs.

Location: East Hollywood

Type of Funding: Pre-seed, seed, early stage

Focus: Pediatric Health Care Innovation

Notable Past Companies: Smileyscope, Zocalo Health

Disney Accelerator

Disney Accelerator is a startup accelerator that provides early-stage companies in the consumer media, entertainment and technology sectors with mentorship, guidance, and investment from Disney executives. The program, now in its 10th year, aims to foster collaborations and partnerships between innovative technology companies and The Walt Disney Company to help them accelerate their growth and bring new experiences to Disney audiences.

Location: Burbank

Type of Funding: Growth stage

Focus: Technology and entertainment

Notable Past Companies: Epic Games, BRIT + CO, CAMP

Techstars Space Accelerator

Techstars Space Accelerator is a startup accelerator program focused on advancing the next generation of space technology companies. The three-month mentorship-driven program brings together founders from across the globe to work on big ideas in aerospace, including rapid launch services, precision-based imaging, operating systems for complex robotics, in-space servicing, and thermal protection.

Location: Los Angeles

Type of Funding: Growth stage

Focus: Aerospace

Notable Past Companies: Pixxel, Morpheus Space

Download the dot.LA App

🚁 One Step Closer to Air Taxis in LA
Image Source: Joby Aviation

🔦 Spotlight

Joby Aviation, a pioneering electric air taxi company, has achieved a significant milestone by successfully flying a hydrogen-electric aircraft demonstrator for 523 miles with only water as a byproduct. This groundbreaking flight showcases the potential for emissions-free regional travel using vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, eliminating the need for traditional runways. The company's innovative approach combines its existing battery-electric air taxi technology with hydrogen fuel cells, paving the way for longer-range, environmentally friendly air travel.

For LA residents, this development holds exciting implications for future transportation options. Joby's technology could potentially enable direct flights from LA to destinations like San Francisco or San Diego without the need to visit conventional airports, offering a cleaner and more convenient alternative to current travel methods. The company's progress in both battery-electric and hydrogen-electric aircraft positions it at the forefront of next-generation aviation, promising to revolutionize urban and regional mobility.

Notably, Joby Aviation has already made strides in Southern California by securing an agreement with John Wayne Airport earlier this year to install the region's first electric air taxi charger. This strategic move sets the stage for LA to be among the initial markets where Joby will launch its electric air taxi service. With plans to commence commercial operations as early as 2025 using its battery-electric air taxi, LA residents may soon have access to a fast, quiet, and environmentally friendly mode of transportation that could significantly reduce travel times and traffic congestion in the region. In the not too distant future, LA might find itself in an identity crisis without traffic and excess smog 🤞🤞.

🤝 Venture Deals

LA Companies

LA Venture Funds

Download the dot.LA App