Josh Dean, Co-Founder of Human.nyc
“Many people in government like to say that, ‘It takes a village to get someone off the street.’ That isn’t true. It takes an apartment to bring someone off the street. When they say it takes dozens to convince someone to get off the street, that’s actually more about the bureaucracy.”
Meet Josh Dean. Josh is the co-Founder of Human.nyc, a media advocacy organization that seeks to improve the onerous process that street homeless New Yorkers must endure to secure housing. He is a co-founder of We Are New York Values, which connects volunteers to civic organizations; interned for Sen. Cory Booker, and later worked as a political campaign consultant for Bully Pulpit Interactive. Josh is currently an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Civic Hall. Outside of his work, he enjoys watching and playing soccer, spending time with friends and family, and eating Indian food. You can connect with Josh through email or follow him via Instagram.
What Does He Do?
“I’ve been doing this for over two years. Almost every time I go out, I learn something new.”
Everywhere he goes, Josh carries a big, black duffel filled with socks. To date, Humans.nyc has conducted thirty video interviews with street homeless. Josh and his colleagues believe in building trust before asking for an interview. They offer socks, introduce themselves, and on a second interaction might ask for an interview. They pay their subjects $20, understanding that this is a time they might otherwise be spending panhandling. They make a point of following up after an interview.
How Did He Get Into This Work?
Josh was born in Queens, NY and grew up near Princeton, NJ. He’s always been interested in public service, beginning with his participation in the Relay for Life club during High School, which raised monies for the American Cancer Society. While some might be content by the modest takings earned from bake sales, Josh was disturbed by the lack of impact:
“Relay had an email platform, so I wrote a straightforward email to parents of kids I played soccer with. I raised more money from that single email than the previous year combined from all sales and efforts. After that, I asked myself, “Why are we doing all of these traditional fundraisers when we can raise more money this way?”
Josh became president of his Relay chapter his senior year and focused his efforts on coaching others how to write sticky emails and tell their stories. After graduation, he asked himself: “I wonder if other nonprofits could use that tool?” As a freshman at NYU, he launched Life to Give, a storytelling platform for crowdfunding non-profit fundraising. “About thirty people used the website and raised a decent amount of money, but customer acquisition and running a business was too much for my 19-year-old self in school.” Josh is being a bit modest; the startup won first prize in 2013 for the Stern Social Impact Business Challenge.
At NYU Josh used a platform which enabled users to drop a pin where someone was hungry. Thinking that there were two or three student-driven nonprofits focused on homelessness across campus, he decided to bring all parties together to share information. Josh was so excited by Isaac, his future co-founder, that he asked to join what became Human.nyc. “[Isaac] provided me with a tangible way to take action around an issue that had been visible to me for my first four years at New York, that I sadly rarely did much about. My passion for the issue grew from the initial conversations I had with people on the streets and has grown steadily since then.”
While Josh was navigating NYU, running Life to Give, and building what become Human.nyc, he was lucky enough to be in the audience of the Colbert Report to catch a segment with then-Mayor Cory Booker. Josh was electrified by Booker’s pitch that tech can be used as a tool to mobilize people.
“I was on the edge of my seat. I really wanted to work for this guy.” When Booker spoke at NYU, he made certain to stake out an auditorium seat nearby the mic and to draft a compelling question. It worked. Several phone calls later, Josh was an intern. Booker’s staff of four was steeling themselves for a 2014 Senate run, but out of the blue, Frank Lautenberg, the sitting Senator, passed away and Gov. Chris Christie called for a special election for fall, 2013. A true baptism of fire.
What Project(s) Is He Working On?
Human.nyc seeks to document every step between when someone becomes street homeless and when they get housing. They have mapped out the entire byzantine process: When they leave the shelter. What outreach worker first talks with them. Currently, three visits – or sightings – are required over a 9 month period before one can be recommended for transitional housing. In addition to proof of identity, you have to pass a psycho-social interview centralized intake. If this sounds crazy, that’s because it is.
“For each of the steps, we hope to share video footage from our interviews which allow homeless people to explain the process from their perspective. Then, we offer policy and program recommendations for how each step can be improved or eliminated. We ultimately hope to pitch our platform to the City Council and the Mayor’s office.”
How Did He Come to Civic Hall?
Josh has been a huge Civic Hall fan from the jump: “I actually came to Civic Hall’s opening day back in the old space. It was a big moment for me as I was passionate about government, technology, advocacy, etc. but did not know that “civic tech” was a thing. I felt like I found my people and left the afternoon buzzing. I was in and out of the space for the next few years and am so happy to be a part of it now. I’m grateful to many people, but I must call out Adam Bard who is also working on a project around homelessness, as he introduced me to the EIR program.”
Earlier this July, Humans, and Streetlives joined together to present a workshop on intentional listening: How to work with the homeless community in a way that is both respectful and helpful. You can watch an archive of the FacebookLive here.
What Is His Ask of Civic Hall?
With a winter launch of Human.nyc — the website currently features only five words: Instilling dignity in homeless services.” — Josh offers, “we are are a few months away of navigating local politics on a much deeper level. We have an introduction to Councilman Levin and have had initial discussions with Speaker Corey Johnson and Borough President Gale Brewer. We could use help not only for introductions, but for mapping out who the people who need to know about this are, and ways to get in front of them.”
And on the most basic level, Josh has these thoughts:
“Ask me for a few pair of socks on your way out. Stop and talk to the person you see living on the street and you’ve been passing by. Ask them how they are doing. Ask them for their name. Give them your name. Crouch down at eye level and ask them if they need socks.”