A new Bay Area on-demand storage company is on a mission to help alleviate the area’s homelessness problem while growing its business.

Founded in February 2017, San Francisco-based Boombox Storage has pledged to donate the first month’s rent of any customer who switches from self-storage to its full-service model to a Bay Area homeless shelter.

Boombox Storage Founder Calvin Hemington says he grew up in the Bay Area and has been aware of the city’s homelessness issue his whole life. Current estimates peg San Francisco’s homeless population at round 7,500.

“How business could do a lot of the community has always been in the back of my mind,” he said. “So I wanted to establish our company in a way that we could also give back.”

Build housing not storage

There’s only a finite amount of space in San Francisco so to Hemington, it doesn’t make sense to build storage facilities on sites that could instead be used to help the homeless or to build more affordable housing.

“We thought we could free up premium real estate in the city for better uses, such as homeless shelters or low-income housing,” he said. “And at the same time we could offer a better service for those who currently use self-storage.”

The premise behind Boombox is similar to that of other nascent storage companies like MakeSpaceTrove and Clutter that offer door-to-door service. The company comes to the consumer, promising full service convenience and lower prices by storing their belongings in a lower price real estate area further out of town.

In Boombox’s case, its warehouse is in Tracy, which is located about one hour east of the city. Hemington estimates there are 10,000 storage units spread out over 1 million square feet of space in San Francisco, which he feels could be better utilized as affordable housing.

Homeless tents line city streets in San Francisco.
Homeless tents line city streets in San Francisco.

Store your stuff, help the homeless

The startup is thus far privately funded and not seeking venture capital at this time.

“We see ourselves as a hassle-free alternative to self-storage,” Hemington said. “Our model makes the most sense for people who see storage as an extension of their garage or closet.”

Customers can access their stored items online and request via the internet when they want something delivered back to their home or apartment. The company currently offers a 5×10 space for $89 a month.

Those customers who are switching from self-storage to the Boombox platform will be able to choose a Bay Area homeless shelter to be the recipient of their first month’s rent. If unspecified, Boombox will make the donations out to St. Anthony’s homeless shelter in San Francisco. Its goal is to raise $100,000 in donations by the end of 2018.

“We’re trying to get people involved with the mission and get the word out there that our services are better than self-storage and are cheaper too,” Hemington said. “We want people to look at storage facilities in a different way. Space is a hot commodity here and we want to help save it.”

Social causes are good for business

Robert Taylor, a senior vice president in CRBE’s Stockton office, agrees that the premise behind Boombox and other companies like it “makes economic sense.”

“San Francisco rents are very expensive,” he wrote via email. “If you’re storing items you don’t use often, then why pay a high rent?”

However, Taylor does see the purpose of both self-storage and on-demand storage.

“Dense urban areas may rely on ‘on-demand service,’ while inland markets may continue to favor traditional facilities due to cost and convenience of access,” he added.

He believes Boombox’s mission to help the homeless is an admirable one and that customers do consider social causes in their decision-making process.

“Plus, it’s the right thing to do,” Taylor said.

Mary Ann Azevedo