Passion for Justice

Student Launches Nonprofit to Help Homeless People in San Francisco

He brings free solar power to people on the streets

by Evan Elliot, USF News

When COVID-19 closed the Hilltop campus in spring 2020, Zac Clark ’23 moved out of Gillson Hall and into a studio apartment in the Tenderloin. While Clark could barely afford his apartment, he saw that many of his neighbors couldn’t afford any lodging at all. That got him thinking.

He created a 501c3 nonprofit that helps people who don’t have homes.

Slow Start, Big Idea  

When Clark launched his HomeMore website in July 2020, he heard crickets. Hardly anyone clicked, called, or donated. Then he got an idea: give a backpack to people living on the streets. The backpack includes a sleeping bag, a flashlight, a radio, and a built-in solar panel.

The solar panel is critical, Clark said. It can charge the flashlight, the radio, and a mobile phone.

More than half of the unhoused people living in the city use cell phones to stay connected to services such as shelters and food banks, but they have few places to charge their phones, Clark said.

Clark spent a year developing the backpack. Its retail value is $100. Clark, a double major in marketing and international business, raised $60,000 to have it manufactured in China.

Clark walks around the city with backpacks stacked on a rolling cart. He gives a backpack, free, to each person on the street who wants one.

Often, the backpack is the start of a relationship, Clark said. “When people receive a backpack, they don’t just say ‘thanks’ and walk away. We get to know them and we hear their stories.”

On his website, Clark shares his clients’ stories, with permission. A woman named Morgan talked about her struggles to avoid predators and find safe places to sleep. A man named Austin talked about his work doing DoorDash deliveries — and the challenge of keeping his phone charged.   

New Year, Big Plans

So far, Clark has given away 130 backpacks. He and his staff of more than 40 interns plan to distribute 1,000 more this year.

After he graduates in May, Clark hopes to raise enough funding to pay himself a salary as the first full-time employee of the HomeMore Project. For three years, he has worked 40 to 50 hours a week without pay.

“Zac Clark is changing the game,” said David Philpott ’93, MPA ’97, president of Groceries for Seniors, a nonprofit in San Francisco that delivers food to 1,000 low-income seniors each week. “He doesn’t wait for people to come to him; he goes to them and meets them where they are.”

It all starts with a backpack, Clark said. In addition to the sleeping bag, flashlight, radio, and phone charger, it contains a brochure filled with all of the resources — for food, clothing, shelter, health care, education — provided by the local organizations with whom HomeMore works.

“This backpack is a sign and a symbol of what we offer,” Clark said. “Some people tell us, ‘Your backpack can’t end homelessness!’ I say, ‘I know it can’t end homelessness, but it’s a place to begin.’”