The Learning Shelter

Homeless people always hear that they should “get a job.” We’re giving them the skills to do that with 90 days of training.

The campaign may have finished, but the work has just begun. It's impossible to imagine that with all the links out there to this page, that the hits will stop rolling in.

Check for updates and watch for the reward surveys. Many people who have contributed to this campaign have requested no reward or a perk significantly less than the amount that their contribution deserves. You have your reasons and our gratitude. For the record we will look for things to make and places to apply their good use, it is the ultimate vision of The Learning Shelter that we give to people who will be able to give back. May we do such a good job that we put ourselves out of business in the years to come.

Very best wishes,

Marc Roth
The Learning Shelter =)


The Learning Shelter is a gateway to technology and employment. It will be located in temporary spaces to serve people committed to our 90-day training, an exit strategy from homelessness. It’s open source and focused on helping people who are vulnerable, open and ready to start again. Failure is not an identity. It’s an ingredient that can strengthen character. It should never be used to hold a person down..

Working with local entrepreneurs and other mentors from the maker and technology communities, each participant can build their own 60 day curriculum from a simplified catalog.

  • 3D modeling
  • 3D Printing
  • CNC Laser Cutting
  • Laser Etching
  • CNC Routers
  • CNC Mills
  • Vector Illustration
  • Injection Molding
  • Vacuum Forming
  • Metal Shop
  • Wood Shop
  • Social Media Management
  • Basic Computer Programming
  • Basic Web/App Development
  • Endless more possibilities

Each participant will have spent 30 days on our core curriculum and and 60 days on their own track. They will all walk away with:

  • A portfolio featuring their work and a capstone project
  • Some kind of social media presence and the knowledge to use it
  • Their passport, so they can feel limitless
  • Pride and a sense of accomplishment
  • Opportunities to pitch their own ideas to our board
  • Employer contacts ready to talk to about jobs
  • An invitation to help lead future Learning Shelters

One person chosen by the group will have the opportunity to go to Haiti to teach at Haiti Communitere, where people in extreme poverty are seeking resources and education as they attempt to grow. 

An adult who joins us without skills on day one will have general introductory knowledge within 30 days. After 90 days, we’ll make sure that person has five basic skills and one skill they have mastered.

San Francisco’s homeless have been at the center of a highly visible and hotly contested debate for years. There are more than 7,000 people on the street and in shelters in the city, and many more who are poorly housed and on the brink of losing shelter.

We can give able-bodied adults a chance to provide security for themselves with job training. One person’s skills can help many lives.  

Our 90-day curriculum (see details below)

When Does it Start?

March 15, 2014 is when we want to begin.

The Support

The Learning Shelter has inspired a community of supporters around common goals  for almost a year now. 

From 2013 until now:

  • Invited by mayor's office to share with the US Congress of Mayors.
  • Became a project of The Institute for The Future.
  • Became a project of Architecture For Humanity.
  • Has been supported incredibly ReAllocate.
  • Direct support from TechShop; now active in multiple major US cities.
  • Stay up to date as we progress on Facebook!

The Background

The homeless population has grown substantially in the last 10 years. Job losses and recession will do that. 

Technology plays a role in unemployment, because it makes companies more efficient at the expense of jobs. As long as we adapt, it's not a bad thing. We just need to help each other do it.

The businesses creating jobs now are usually small, heavily reliant on technology, and lacking large training budgets. They count on their new employees walking in the door with at least basic knowledge and the ability to learn more quickly.

The bulk of the homeless population is made up of males over 40. Most are veterans; many former union members. Very few are people who have never worked before. It's just that the work they did isn't necessary now. 

San Francisco's shelters are full -- don't believe anything else. There are people who sleep all night in line just to get into a shelter the next day. Some of those beds go to able-bodied adults, who only need training. That's what we're going to give them.  

Has this been done before?

Link to VentureBeat article

PandoDaily: Marc Roth hacked his way out of homelessness. Now he's helping others do the same.

San Francisco Chronicle: Marc Roth opens fund campaign for Learning Shelter program

Learning Shelter's founder, Marc Roth, was ready to do anything to get out of the shelters. Even under the best conditions, being there is traumatic. 

He lived in one for six months after he got sick living in his car. He didn't want to be there, and he found his way out through learning. Now he's doing what he loves best, leading a tech company. He's also housed, making an income that will support his family,  and able to give back through The Learning Shelter.

Sometimes it just takes a few bad days to go from precarious to homeless. And once you're there, climbing back out isn't easy. 

Of course, The Learning Shelter isn't a magic bullet. This path worked for one guy. Now we want to try it with four people. A pilot program. 

Once we learn from that, we'll accept 30 participants for 90 more days. We're going to build an organization that converts homeless shelter residents into employable technology workers, and even entrepreneurs.

How the Project will Work

We'll be paying attention to what works and building on that. The Learning Shelter is about following success with success and offering entrepreneurs the chance to give back and share that success with our people. We are looking for product designers and for those who will volunteer time. We're asking pioneering organizations to let our participants into their communities.

Our general aims during this process will be:

  • Steering away from first-job first-candidate hiring
  • Teach working with passion
  • Clear all obstacles for 90 days
  • Open paths to success and accomplishment
  • Mentorship and community-based learning tools
  • Practicing and sharing honestly and vulnerably
  • Beginning with the end in mind

Full Circle

We want you, our backers, to connect with us as much as possible, and as much as you want. Whether join us to roll up your sleeves, or buy a t-shirt hand made by the people you're supporting. At the very least, everyone who contributes will share in our success through these rewards. 

Other Ways You Can Help

We know some folks just can’t contribute. A lot of people coming to this campaign are from the homeless community, and may or may not be potential candidates for our program. Just showing the world that you see a solution for yourself means the world to our campaign and our team.

Common Questions:

Don't most homeless people have addictions and/or mental illnesses that need to be addressed before jobs and training are of any use? 

No, not everyone. We believe about 25% of the homeless population in San Francisco would be viable employees with training. Among them, we will look for those with the willingness and ability to be makers. 

A rare treat for TLS participants is a chance to be vulnerable and to trust. With them, we will be building a plan that takes the whole person into account, and encourages participants to take a long look in the mirror. We hope this will empower people to help them help themselves through honesty and community. If you know the term IEP, this as an IEP for adults.

Are the participants being paid for their work? 

No. They will make the rewards we owe you after this campaign, and in the process they'll learn how to make other things as well. 

We are a non-profit providing thousands of dollars in training, housing, food, transportation and accessibility. As far as income taxes, being a non-profit and an experiment, under the Good Samaritan laws we do not intend to 1099 them for their benefits nor consider them employees. 

* all contributions are treated as donations, are tax deductible and will come with a receipt upon request from a registered 501c3 per The Learning Shelter's fiscal sponsorship agreement.

*Should you wish to mail a check, do so to the following -->  ATTN: The Learning Shelter, The Institute for the Future, 124 University Ave, Palo Alto, CA 94301

Team on This Campaign: