Two ways digital inclusion can tackle homelessness

This year Social Platform started working on digital inclusion. On the basis of our members’ projects and positions we will work towards defining our joint work and building relationships with new partners. One of our members, the European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless (FEANTSA) has been highlighting some of their member’s projects in their latest magazine on digital inclusion and homelessness. When reading I was reminded about two important things:

Firstly, digital inclusion can be a real matter of life and death; without access to information and communications technology (ICT) we most often cannot search for a job, a place to live, or health care and other essential services. Most of us have probably never reflected on how we would go about looking for a job or a place to live without any access to internet. For a homeless person, ICT also allows them to keep in touch with family, friends, social workers, and peer-support groups when, for example, trying to maintain sobriety. Online maps and weather forecasts can be especially useful for homeless people to get information about where to eat and sleep, not least during extreme weather conditions. In fact, digital inclusion can help people experiencing homelessness to find a way out, and thereby tackles social exclusion.

Reconnect – Cloud Solidarity in France identified the specific problem of lost identity documents – an issue that affects not only homeless people, but also undocumented migrants, people experiencing poverty, and survivors of violence who have to leave their homes. Losing identity papers or having them stolen also means losing access to rights and, eventually, not even being recognised by social services anymore. This is not only a problem for the individual but also for social workers, who spend 30 percent of their time helping users to reapply for their documents that might end up lost again. As a solution, Reconnect developed a service that scans people’s identity papers. The copy counts either as proof of the existence of the original document, or at least makes the procedure to apply for a new original much easier. Since Reconnect was launched in September 2015, more than 900 users have opened an account and more than 4,000 documents are stored on the platform.

Secondly, digital technology does not only benefit people in a vulnerable situations, but also social workers, service provider and the general public who care but do not know the best way to help. Members of the public would often like to help people sleeping rough but do not know the best way to do so. StreetLink in the United Kingdom has therefore developed a website, a mobile app and a telephone line for people who care. In this way, rough sleepers can be located and receive advice and services that they otherwise may not have known were available to them. Since its launch in December 2012, over 57,000 reports of people sleeping on the streets have been made to StreetLink, 25,000 people have been connected to services, and 4,000 people have been found accommodation.

Read also about our members Inclusion Europe, which is helping people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to communicate online.