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How Technology Can Help Curb Homelessness

Technology playing a huge part in the lives of everyday citizens need not exclude those without permanent housing.

 

Technology can be the key to helping curb homelessness. The mix of technology and social housing is possible, just as long as we know that the technology is out there. It can play a part in helping to create environments where people with rooms to spare can provide much-needed aid to homeless people.

A program like the Mend App enables homeless people to be connected by the public to services that can best support them. Technology of this kind plays a vital role in increasing productivity and streamlining the administrative processes associated with housing homeless people.

It’s a project spearheaded by Rabbi Mendel Kastel of the charity Jewish House.

“It doesn’t take much to realize that technology is playing such a role in so many areas of business and other areas,” Rabbi Mendel says. “We really need to look at how it can play a greater role in social opportunities, and I think COVID has pushed some of that along. Everybody knows what a QR code is, so the opportunities are there.”

Jewish House is launching a number of programs that look at technology and AI and information to be able to connect people with services.

“One is the Mend app, which is if you’re walking down the street and you see someone on the street, in a car, behind a building, you can ‘flag’ that person and the information will go to a local service, who can pop by and check up on the person. It recognizes that we’re not necessarily professionals who can approach the person, not knowing what to say or what to do. If we alert services to where they are, we can get them help a lot quicker.”

Rabbi Mendel says that one of the most important considerations is to get people off the street as quickly as possible; that their homeless stint is as short as possible.

“That there’s the least trauma and ‘damage’ to the person,” Mendel added.

 

With technology’s ability to bring people together, keep them informed, and create a sense of inclusion through Jewish House’s apps and platforms, including the Mend and couch-surfing platforms, it can help improve how housing providers engage and communicate with their tenants, which leads to delivering a better outcome for the community as a whole.

 

The second innovation Jewish House is hoping to find its way into wider public use has to do with “couch surfers.”

Through this platform/text line, housing providers can see a would-be couch surfer’s details, better enabling them to be cognizant of any potentially challenging situations, and avoid any potential issues which might otherwise escalate. The ultimate aim of the program is to get people “off the couch” and into more suitable long-term accommodation.

“On some level, people usually associate couch surfers with someone staying over at a friend’s place, sleeping on somebody’s couch,” Rabbi Mendel says, “But unfortunately, couch surfing applies to homelessness among those staying at a place that is not appropriate. Their mental health can be severely affected by not knowing how long they’re going to be there, feeling bad about how they’re possibly putting their friends out … to more sinister stuff where they’re trying to get a bed and are willing to do almost anything to be able to have a roof over their heads.”

The Rabbi says he’s been told of cases where people may be using apps like Tinder in order to secure a place to stay, circumstances involving drugs, and pointed out a story as recently published in The Australian about someone who died while couch-surfing; that the circumstance possibly involved drugs, which suggests broader, potentially worse circumstances in the community.

With 45% of couch surfers being under 25, most of whom are women, Rabbi Mendel says the risks are out there and need to be curbed. Using information to help keep couch surfers safe is of huge benefit to these types of systems, he says. The SMS service can be accessed in more than 100 languages, further breaking the barriers to those who would benefit from it.

The third area Jewish House is working on revolves around homelessness risk, earmarking the idea that prevention is better than a remedy.

“They did a New York research project, with over 120,000 families, and created the ‘Home Base’ tool, from which a score is provided, allowing the decision to be made to best deploy prevention activities and money. Together with UTS, Jewish House has adopted it for the Australian market, but we’re still working out how to deploy it. But we hope to start a trial to see how it works.”

With technology’s ability to bring people together, keep them informed, and create a sense of inclusion through Jewish House’s apps and platforms, including the Mend and couch-surfing platforms, it can help improve how housing providers engage and communicate with their tenants, which leads to delivering a better outcome for the community as a whole.

 

 

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