Using Clouds to Help the Homeless

The tech ops guys were banging on about CloudFlare again, and I had no idea why. Did Cloudflare sponsor them? Surely it couldn’t be that good, right? And anyway it would be super technical and a little bit out of reach for a mere Product Manager?

While hurrying to the rain swept carpark after work, I was pondering Cloudflare when I spotted a pair of feet sticking out of a blanket. The feet were attached to a soggy looking fellow wearing a bobble hat and (now soaking) red woolly jumper. I gave the guy a fiver and moved on. My job was done, but not quite. He was still sat there. I alone could not solve his predicament.

Cogs whirled, electricity flowed, and the remaining neurone fired – why not learn about Cloudflare and try and help the guy sleeping rough?

And so “Give a Fiver” was born:

https://www.give-a-fiver.co.uk

A solution where I got some much needed hands-on, practical experience with what Cloudflare can leverage while potentially raising money and the profile of the homeless in the North West.

It’s true then; the sun always shines above the cloud, even if it’s a virtual one.

give-a-fiver.co.uk was spec’d, built and configured with Cloudflare in Bean Coffee (20 Chapel Street) on my lunch breaks during w/c 20th November 2017. This timeframe is probably less than you spend checking if anyone “liked” that vanilla post you put on Facebook last week.

The speed of setup should give some indication of how complicated Cloudflare is to configure for someone who’s never used it before. It’s not; the quick start user interface (with video) gives you the credentials you need to implement the solution, and (once done) Cloudflare does the rest.

It’s worth noting you’ll need to have admin access to your domain name (Cloudflare works at this level, rather than server side) and the changes are not instant. I assume they’re under the same restrictions as any domain, basing refresh rate on a Time to Live (TTL) value.

The main reason I wanted to use Cloudflare was to take advantage of the SSL certification. The hosting I’d used did have this as part of the package, but many do not. This is a doddle to switch on; it’s literally a switch. You can force all traffic to SSL on the full and the bare domain along with creating specific rules.

Other advantages of Cloudflare include caching (to reduce server load), automatic minification (which increased page download speed), scrape shield (goes some way to protect content on your site from hotlinks), and a variety of other security/analysis tools.

Oh yeah – did I mention – it’s free. Or at least the version I’m on is. You can have advanced functionality for an additional cost, along with more focused SSL certification, but most of the server side features a simple website requires comes out of the box for the mere price of your time signing up.

One of the most exciting things about starting any project alone is the information gathering required and not just from a technical perspective. There are no workshops or focus groups, just quietly sitting down and going through online resources for information and “getting it done”.

I started off with this article in the Liverpool Echo.  Sifting through this information gave me a better insight into what’s going on in the North West Homeless sector and hopefully the signposting I’ve put on give-a-fiver.co.uk will help users decide quickly where their fiver will have the most impact.

Homelessness is a complex subject with the causes ranging from circumstance to mental health – it’s the end symptom of the human condition. How can you help? Generally speaking, the best way to help the homeless is to give to charities.

The negative side to organised charity is the overhead (Harpal Kumar of Cancer Research UK has a pay range of between £230,000-£240,000). The benefits do outway the negatives as long as you can stomach that, that salary is 46,000 peoples fivers…

1. Structure and professionals
Organisation along with structure allows professionals to triage and deal with those most vulnerable first. The structure has some advantages for the individuals but also for the public whose money may be spent on additional hospital beds or police if the homeless person’s situation escalates to critical (either to themselves or a danger to the public).

2. Gift-aid
When you give through official channels, the government essentially gives your chosen charity the tax you’ve paid on those earnings as “Gift-aid”.

This can significantly boost the charities earning (and your giving) capacity – it also makes it easier to track what funds are coming into any given charity by the Government. Monitoring cash flow means that the output of the charity can be measured against a cash figure and be subject to Key Performance Indicator monitoring (i.e. how far does your pound go).

Conclusion
Of course, some of this is allegorical – in reality tech ops explained in detail the benefits of Cloudflare in a measured and appropriate way; but I’m not a fan of mysteries and decided that having a go at using Cloudflare would help solve a professional question. The fact that I also managed to pull together a fast, responsive and easy to use website in less than a week which helps people was a bonus.

I’d recommend setting up a Cloudflare account in the first instance, getting to know the interface (like clearing the cache) and then looking at implementing it on larger projects when you’re comfortable with making changes at the drop of a hat.

Some clouds have a silver lining, Cloudflare is pure gold.

If you’re interested you can find the hard stats about homelessness here:

http://www.homeless.org.uk/ along with
https://www.gov.uk/guidance/homelessness-data-notes-and-definitions

And to Cloudflare:
https://www.cloudflare.com/plan

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