The Pittsburgh Foundation

A Smart(Phone) Solution to a Big Problem

Terry Serafini at a homeless encampment under the 31st Street Bridge.

ON ANY GIVEN NIGHT in Allegheny County, about 1,000 people face homelessness or housing insecurity. Many find refuge where they can, from cold alleyways to makeshift camps beneath bridges.

“Let’s say a police officer is out there on the street and runs into someone who needs help — what does he or she do?” asks Foundation donor Terry Serafini. For years, there was no reliable answer.

Jennie Zioncheck, the Foundation’s director of development, connected him to Dr. Joseph Lagana, founder of the Homeless Children’s Education Fund, who pitched Serafini on a smartphone-friendly website that could immediately connect someone facing a housing crisis to needed services. For Serafini, who went to college to become a teacher but ended up in a career in technology instead, the opportunity was a philanthropic fit.

Launched in August with support from Serafini and others, BigBurgh.com has already been used thousands of times by police officers, concerned citizens and people facing homelessness themselves. “We’re very excited about [BigBurgh],” says Serafini, pictured above at a homeless encampment beneath the 31st Street Bridge. “It could save someone’s life, and we’re determined to keep it going.”

Original story appeared in Forum Quarterly - Fall 2016