Black’s Blog: Homeless not phoneless?

Jimmy Black
Jimmy Black

Former convener of housing at Dundee City Council, Jimmy Black muses about Shelter Scotland’s recent “hackathon”.

Sitting on a PC in one of the world’s seven most intelligent cities on superfast broadband, for me the internet is just always there, like water from the Angus Glens. Is the internet always there … or ever there … for homeless people?

Yes it is, within limits. If you have no house, you may still have a smartphone. The problem then is the cost of data; you may be on a Pay As You Go tariff. But there are places where free wifi is available; it depends on your level of poverty whether you can afford to use them.

There are libraries where you can use the internet for free. That’s good, and there are people like DWP, voluntary organisations and Shelter Scotland which give people access to computers and the internet.

Shelter Scotland's hackathon was held last weekend
Shelter Scotland’s hackathon was held last weekend

But none of that is the same as having constant access to the internet, when and where you need it, without worrying about data charges. So here’s a challenge for anyone involved in providing homeless services. Do the people you serve need to claim benefit, communicate with you, find healthcare information, check the rented property sites, get advice, keep in touch with family and friends? Do you want them to have the tools to help themselves solve their own problems?

The next question is … do you make the internet available in the temporary accommodation you provide? Might be worth checking.

I’m looking forward to hearing more about the Shelter Scotland “hackathon”, where IT developers and others got together to tackle homelessness issues. But in the meantime, there are a couple of websites/apps from other places which I think look useful. Philadelphia has an app called Sheltr which enables people to find local help. Australia has AskIzzy, which opens up by asking a wonderfully elegant question … “What do you need?”. Not “this is the service we can provide”, but “What do you need?” That’s the right question.

  • Jimmy Black now works for Dundee Voluntary Action on Technology Enabled Care and writes here in a personal capacity.
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