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Meet a homeless Londoner who’s using crowdfunding to turn his life around

Tony Elie, crowdfunding himself out of homelessness
Andy Parsons

Tony Elie is one of the first people to benefit from a new platform called Beam, which gives homeless people a leg up via crowdfunding. He explains how it’s helping him make a fresh start…

‘I’ve been homeless for most of the past ten years. You won’t have seen me out on the streets, because what most people like me go through isn’t very visible. I’ve been in and out of hostels, sofa-surfing or sleeping in cars. I’ve had nowhere proper to lay my head and have felt incredibly desperate at times. I’ve had odd driving and cleaning jobs, but often those only lasted a few weeks at a time.

I’ve always liked opening things up and having a tinker with them, so it’s easy to see why I liked the idea of being an electrician. A mate of mine does it and says he hasn’t been out of work for 20 years! I managed to get started on an electricals diploma and, even though I was homeless, a friend helped me get a loan by acting as my guarantor. But when my credit rating stopped me getting another loan to finish my training, I got worried.

That’s when a housing charity pointed me towards Beam: a new online platform that uses crowdfunding to get homeless people into training that’ll get them good, honest work.
I spoke to the founder, Alex, and we set a target of £4,378 – enough to cover the rest of my course, my textbooks and everything.

‘I had no idea if it would work, but pretty soon it was turning my life around’

Now, when you’re in my situation, you get used to hearing things that turn out to be too good to be true. I have to admit that I hadn’t even heard of crowdfunding before, and I had no idea if it would work. But pretty soon it was turning my life around.   

When the first donations and messages of support started coming in, I choked up a little. Suddenly there was light at the end of the tunnel. We made the target, Beam paid for my college fees and now I can finish my diploma. As for my donors, they can monitor my progress online and see the difference they made.

I think what people like about Beam’s model is that there’s a very clear goal for each member. Nothing’s ever just done on a whim, with no sense of where the money will go.

There are people who walk past the homeless in the street and say, ‘I’m not giving them money; they’ve got to get up and try.’ I actually understand why they say that. How do you know your pounds can or will really help that person? Drugs, alcohol, petty crime – I’ve been on the wrong train myself at times. I’ve spent time in prison, most recently in 2005. I take responsibility for all that drama. But it’s a past life. I’ve got a new positive direction.

I’ve started work experience at an electricals firm and I hope they’ll ask me to work for them once I’m qualified. In 18 months’ time I want to be out of my hostel in Forest Hill, renting a place of my own. And one day I’d love to have my own company, giving others the chance to work at improving their own lives.

For now, I’m focused on showing Beam’s other members the same love I’ve received, by supporting them during their own crowdfunding campaigns. Ultimately I’ll be donating some of my own salary to the project, too. And to all those people who helped me reach my funding target, I just want to say thank you for not giving up on a stranger.’

Find out more at www.wearebeam.org.

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