When Ramon Aleman was growing up in Miami, his parents told him his grandfather had been homeless at one time. The news was unsettling, and Aleman promised himself that one day he would assist individuals and families out of homelessness.
He has kept that promise. During his time at Florida State University, the marketing and psychology major, who graduates this summer, founded Unhoused Humanity. The nonprofit organization, which in just over a year has raised more than $40,000 and helped to house 100 people by paying their security deposits, first and last month’s rent and utility activation fees – major barriers to overcoming homelessness. Aleman raises the payments through crowdfunding.
For his extensive community service – which includes volunteer teaching in Cambodia – Aleman was selected as the College of Business Humanitarian of the Year. In March, he joined 12 other students representing each of FSU’s other colleges, at a recognition luncheon hosted by President John Thrasher.
These students are now in the running for the FSU President's Undergraduate Humanitarian of the Year Award. The prestigious university-wide honor will be awarded April 11 during Leadership Awards Night. A $1,000 donation will be given to a nonprofit agency of the winner’s choice. The recognition is sponsored by the FSU Office of the President, the Office of the Vice President of Student Affairs and the Center for Leadership & Social Change.
Before founding his organization, Aleman researched homelessness in the U.S. and the Tallahassee community and discovered that many homeless people have steady incomes, but they can’t save enough money for deposits. Unhoused Humanity uses online profiles and articles to connect homeless individuals with donors though a crowdfunding platform.
“Once they have deposit money – about $1,000, generally – they can continue supporting themselves,” Aleman said. “A home means health, hope and is a catalyst for a new future.”
Unhoused Humanity partners with local agencies in Tallahassee, including Big Bend Homeless Coalition, the Kearney Center and the Emergency Care Help Organization (ECHO), whose caseworkers refer their clients to Aleman. If the client meets certain criteria, Aleman posts the client’s profile on his website and donors chose whom to fund. When a client is fully funded, the caseworker pays the landlord on behalf of the client.
“This experience has helped me understand the issues surrounding the homeless community and has contributed to my empathy,” Aleman said. “This has been the most deeply satisfying experience of my whole life. I’ve learned a lot about social entrepreneurship and managing a startup by creating something that has changed the lives of countless individuals.”
Aleman was nominated for the college’s recognition by Willy Bolander, the Carl DeSantis Associate Professor of Marketing. “Ramon rightly identified the expenses of moving in as major hurdles for those struggling to stabilize their housing situation,” Bolander said. “And he identified a way to help homeless individuals gain a solid footing and move their lives in a positive direction.”
In addition to his work with Unhoused Humanity, Aleman spent two month last summer in Cambodia teaching English to 150 students through the Global Peace Exchange Program. That experience was the impetus for creating an English language program, under the Global Peace Exchange Program umbrella, in Haiti, where he will spend two months this summer teaching 50 middle school students. While there, he will supervise three other teaching volunteers and raise funds for a local teacher’s salary.
“This project will create the opportunity for children in the poorest area in the Western Hemisphere to learn English, increasing their changes of breaking the cycle of poverty,” Aleman said.
Aleman says when he returns from Haiti, he plans on applying for a full-time position with a wilderness therapy organization working with troubled youth either in Hawaii or Colorado.
By Barbara Ash