Formerly homeless American in Barcelona helps others get off the streets

​​​​​​​Some years back, an American in Spain became homeless after a string of bad luck. Now, he’s helping others who’ve hit a similar rough spot. Especially other foreigners with an entrepreneurial spirit.

The World

In 2015, Minnesota native Andrew Funk was living with his Spanish girlfriend in Barcelona, Spain, expecting a baby and launching a start-up. The way he saw it, life was good, he said.

But then, things unraveled. His start-up tanked. Funk and his girlfriend broke up. Funk had to move out of his flat but he had nowhere to go and no money.

At first, Funk, then 34, was couch surfing. After months of that, he wound up sleeping outside near Barcelona’s port. By that point, he was gripped by despair.

“It's hard to explain that to people,” Funk, now 41, said. “But really, your entire soul, your brain, your heart — everything — just weighs [you] down and brings you on the floor.”

man before and after shots

Andrew Funk found himself homeless in Spain in 2015 (left). But with some help, he was able to start anew (right). Now, he runs Homeless Entrepreneur, a nongovernmental organization that connects homeless people with jobs.


Courtesy of Andrew Funk

Eventually, Funk was fortunate enough to meet someone who took him in. He found the support he needed, including friendship and a roof over his head.

That enabled him to start over. His first impulse was to start helping others. He had an idea: to leverage his already global network of contacts to help people  who find themselves in the same predicament that he did.

Later that same year, Funk founded Homeless Entrepreneur, a nongovernmental organization that connects homeless people with jobs. Since then, it has grown from a one-man operation into a well-funded venture. And although most of his efforts have been focused in Spain, the NGO is branching out more globally.

Funk’s group has helped construction workers find gigs and IT people get into training programs. And for people with good business ideas, he looks for investors.

So far, Funk said, his group has helped 39 people get work and find stability and helped hundreds of others improve their lives personally and professionally.

Like Chilean David Sanchez. The 47-year-old has lived all over the world and was once even a famous DJ. He was living the good life — then, he moved to Barcelona from Berlin a few years ago and put everything he owned in storage.

man in home

Chilean David Sanchez, who lives in Spain, was down to nothing when he met Andrew Funk, the founder of Homeless Entrepreneur. Now, he's running his business, Sandboard Spain, which has secured funding from various sources, including IBM.


Gerry Hadden/The World

“I got robbed, and I lost everything,” he said. “I was fully stranded with only what I was wearing and my dogs.”

Now, Sanchez and his two dogs, Stella and Alfie, live in a tiny, wooden shack that he built into a cliff perched high over Barcelona’s cruise-ship harbor. One misstep on the scramble down could mean freefalling.

“Since I got stranded and having this housing problem … it’s mainly because nobody would rent me a place with my two dogs, that's all,” he said. “They would never leave me behind, so I won't leave them.”

Without a safety net, Sanchez has been stuck. He couldn’t rent or grow his business.

But then, he crossed paths with Funk. Sanchez was a good fit for Homeless Entrepreneur, because he’s motivated and stable, Funk said: “It's good. Because most people, when they're starting out, they're kind of lost. So, I appreciate that.”

Funk prompted Sanchez to create a short video about his business that helped attract financial support including from IBM. Through Homeless Entrepreneur, Sanchez was also able to take professional development classes.

man on cliff

David Sanchez, who is originally from Chile, found himself homeless in Spain. But Andrew Funk, through his nongovernmental organization, Homeless Entrepreneur, has been able to make a new start.


Gerry Hadden/The World 

Today, Sanchez runs a company called Sandboard Spain, crafting sandboards.

“Sandboarding, if you don’t know it, is a fairly new sport” — basically, it’s a blend between surfing, skateboarding and snowboarding on sand dunes.

Sanchez’s workshop is a particle-board cubicle, about 10 feet by 8 feet inside a large industrial warehouse. He’s got his tools and a couple of dozen boards lined against one wall.

“I buy secondhand boards on different platforms and I change the base of it and I got a different base so they can work in the sand,” he said.

Sanchez and Funk plan to attend a march against homelessness this coming January at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland — in the hopes of landing even more support.

Funk, who ended up marrying the very person who’d helped him get off the streets all those years ago, said that he knows he’s reaching just a small segment of people through Homeless Entrepreneur. But for those he can reach, the exposure and resources is life-changing.

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