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News from Lemos&Crane

Empowering homeless people through digital technology: literature review

Katherine Vaughan

13 December 2013

Lemos&Crane is pleased to announce the release of The potential for empowering homeless people through digital technology: a preliminary literature review.

Based on a review of the current literature and practice, The potential for empowering homeless people through digital technology describes the role of digital technology in the lives of homeless and vulnerable people today. Digital technology can enhance lives by giving a voice to those who didn't feel as though they had one; as a resource for information about work, shelter and food; by providing entertainment; and as a means of communication. 

In response to the increasing use of digital technology among homeless and vulnerable people, service providers are beginning to offer digital literacy skills training and related workshops. Product designers are increasingly finding innovative ways of helping vulnerable people through the development of new apps, websites and other technologies. But issues of access, internet security, personal safety, digital literacy, confidence, battery-charging, Wi-Fi provision, cost and stigma mean that there is much more to do.

The review could not have come at a more important time for digital literacy. Universal Credit (which the government plans to roll out across the UK by 2017) will require that many people claim their benefits online. When this is the case, homeless and vulnerable people who do not have access to a computer or who are not confident in using this technology will be at the greatest risk of losing out. Helen Milner, cheif executive of Tinder Foundation, said that UK Online Centres should see this as an opportunity to teach digital literacy skills whilst supporting vulnerable claimants. Unfortunately, this support is dependent upon substantial funding from the government's Local Support Services Framework which is not yet guaranteed. Minister for Welfare Reform Lord Freud has noted that "delivery partnerships" will be required if the Local Support Services Framework is to be successfully delivered. Whether these parterships will be between private companies, councils or charities is yet to be seen.

There are many examples of organisations which are already using digital technology to enhance the lives of homeless people. Westminster City Council organised a Hack Day to find ways to utilize the free Wi-Fi available in their area for the benefit of homeless people. Projects which were designed as a result included sites which made services easier to find, documents simpler to save and records easier to keep. 

Homeless SMS, a social enterprise, is developing a Social Messaging Support service for isolated people. The project makes use of basic services such as SMS and Twitter in order to enable homeless people to connect with each other, charity workers and volunteers. This service can then be used to ask and answer questions and for general support.

Digital technology is no longer a luxury reserved for the well-off; it is becoming increasingly ubiquitous in every walk of life. By providing homeless people with the means to access the wealth of opportunities inherent in digital media, service providers can enable homeless people to enhance their own lives and potentially dramatically change their situations for the better. 

To read the review, click here

In conjunction with the review, Lemos&Crane working with Thames Reach and the LankellyChase Foundation present the Digital Empowerment Awards. To find out more, click here

Read more at 

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