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How digital is transforming service delivery for homelessness
We explore some of the ways that digital technology is helping give homeless people in the UK better chances in life and employment.
Homelessness and rough sleeping have reached a crisis point. The number of rough sleepers has raised alarms – 8,855 slept rough in 2019-2019 representing an 18% rise in London last month.
Homeless charities have embarked on a daunting task, as addressing the reasons for homelessness are complex. The most commonly report reasons for homelessness are a lack of affordable housing and relationship breakdown. As well as just the access to shelter, having no fixed abode poses significant challenges in finding accommodation, jobs, and communication.
Here are some of the ways that digital technology is helping charities, governments and other organisations help people who are homeless or at risk or losing their home.
Helping reduce digital exclusion
In Scotland, Streetwork and Glasgow-based Simon Community Scotland have partnered together to help eliminate digital exclusion for the homeless. The homelessness charities launched Get Digital, a scheme that gives homeless individuals the opportunity to use smart phones, internet, laptops, computers, and tablets – equipping them with the skills to engage with others online, search for jobs, look up advice and access essential information, as well as build employment skills.
“Digital should open doors for everyone. The Get Digital programme recognises the power of digital to provide those affected by homelessness with the opportunity to improve their digital skills and achieve their goals,” said Kate Forbes MSP, Minister for Public Finance and Digital Economy.
Winners of the 2019 Tech4Good Community Impact Award, BEAM uses crowdfunding technology to help the UK homeless pursue careers through retraining and mentorship. Once employed, participants remain connected and can donate earnings through the platform. To date, the digital technology has funded 105 campaigns and raised over £420,000.
Connecting people with save havens
In Stockholm, where the temperature regularly drops below the freezing mark, digital billboards quickly remove adverts and replace them with information on where shelter and warmth can be found. Clear Channel senior executive Ola Klingenborg, commenting to Reuters said: “These are people who don’t necessarily follow the media or turn to local authorities for help … but they can’t miss billboards.” In cooperation with local non-profits and homeless charities, the digital billboards give clear instructions to the nearby shelters.
Drones have also been used by UK homeless charities to help vulnerable people find services. P3’s Lincolnshire Street Outreach Team are using drones to locate rough sleepers. “This technology evolutionises our ability to direct rapid support to vulnerable people sleeping rough,” said P3 Service Co-ordinator Andy Lee. The technology helps support workers locate vulnerable people by live video streaming from the airborne drone, before helping with accommodation.
Digital communication and new payment technologies are helping people struggling with health and daily essentials.
Homeless people often struggle to purchase essential items, but UK homeless charity Greater Change is helping solve the problem by using QR codes. To donate by mobile phone, donors scan a QR code belonging to a homeless person. The donation is then pre-approved by the charity to be spend on goals chosen by the recipient.
Homeless charities and government have also helped deliver health services by improving digital access to health information. In collaboration, NHS Digital, NHS England, Good Things Foundation and The Seaview Project, have been collecting health data on rough sleepers and encouraging them to go on the internet to get information on how to manage their conditions.
Tackling the root causes
Shelter UK is using data to track housing and socio-economic indicators which will help build the evidence and inform policy decisions. The platform will eventually not only help Shelter consolidate huge amounts of data within the sector for the UK homeless, but also digitise its ageing infrastructure.
“From a data point of view, this is all about building up the platform that enables us to bring together internal and external data sources. We’re really seeing that the route to solving the national housing emergency is around understanding our data, enabling us to base decisions on evidence and facts rather than making presumptions, and using that to help targets for both campaigning work and giving advice,” said Stuart McSkimming, chief information officer from Shelter, when speaking with magazine the New Statesman.