Homelessness and the Role of Information Technology in Staying Connected

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Homelessnes
s

and the R
ol
e of Information
Technology in Staying C
onnected





A
nglicare
-
SA


Natio
nal Homelessness Research Partnership




Dr

Ian Goodwin
-
Smith

and
Susan Myatt






Contact details
:

Dr Ian Goodwin
-
Smith

Research Fellow | Anglicare SA

P


+618 8305 9259

|

E


igoodwinsmith@anglicare
-
sa.org.au






Date of report
: 31
st

May, 2013


2


ACKNOWLEDGEMENT


This project is supported by the Australian Government through the National
Homelessness

Research Agenda of the Department of Families, Housing, Community
Services and Indigenous Affairs.









The opinions, comments and/or analysis expressed in this document are those of the author
or authors and do not necessarily represent the views of
the Minister for Housing and
Homelessness and cannot be taken in any way as expressions of government policy.



3



TABLE OF CONTENTS




1.

Non
-
Technical
Summary







4



2.

Background









5



3.

Purpose and Objectives








9



4.

Methodology









11



5.

Results
and Discussion








11



6.

Policy/Program Implications







16



7.

Further Developments








18



8.

Conclusion









19



9.

References









20

















4


NON
-
TECHNICAL SUMMARY



2013

Homelessness and the role of Information Technology in Staying Connected


PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR:



Dr

Ian Goodwin
-
Smith


ADDRESS:


Research Fellow

Anglicare SA

18 North Terrace

Adelaide

South Australia


OBJECTIVES:

1.

To discover if homeless people use

mobile phones or non
-
mobile

information and
communication technologies

(
ICTs
)

to access the internet and stay connected.

2.

To explore where, when and how homeless people access the
internet
, and if there is an unmet
need in providing non
-
mobile
ICTs
.

3.

To investigate claims that
smartphones are or should be the ICT of choice for homeless people.

4.

To investigate the risks and benefits associated with mobile and non
-
mobile
ICTs
.


O
UTCOMES ACHIEVED TO DATE
:


This small, localised study builds upon previous research
to investigate

how and where homeless
people
access
information and communication technologies (
ICTs
) and the role they play in
connecting to communities

and

government
,

and
to
exiting homelessness. Seventeen homeless
people

and fifteen staff from
services where homeless people access internet services
were
interviewed.

Homeless people and staff identified mobile phones as the main means of
communicating, but not as an access poi
nt to the internet.
Very few
homeless people
used
smartphones, and identified them
as a potential

risk in terms of

impact
ing

on their budget
s
.

Costs
associated with using smartphones as an internet tool provides the greatest barrier

to their use
,
leading t
o a high demand for fixed
-
point platforms in a variety of areas.

Free fixed
-
point platforms
such as those in libraries
are used
,

but remain
inadequate

due to
time

limits, opening hours and
printing costs. Participants identified a variety of methods they u
se to access the internet
,

but
pointed to the need to have the internet provided in areas where they live and congregate, such as
homeless agencies.

Where staff were associated with
homelessness

services, they

identified the vital
importance of the internet in allowing

their clients to exit homeless
ness
.

The research underpins a case for
more fixed
-
point platforms in accessible places,
for use by
homeless people, and to assist homeless people to stay
connected
.








5


BACKGROUND


This project is a small,
localised study into the role of information and communication technologies
(ICTs) in staying connected to the community and services for homeless people.


The research aims to investigate whether there is an
unmet need in the provision of public, fixed
-
point internet access for homeless people, or whether mobile phones are the ICT of choice for
homeless people and their means of staying connected to the world, as well as being an important
link to networks and

connections which underpin homeless people’s potential for exiting
homelessness.


This project

test
s

the hypothesis
that the

target group utilise
or could utilise
mobile phones for
access
to a

range of
internet
-
based

services, including government services, email and social media.
Lawder says that ‘a smartphone offers a cheap way to communicate’, recommending

developing

cost effective programs for smartphone use by disadvantaged populations’

(Lawder, 2012)
.

The
truth and implication of these claims are important to the purpose of this study
and require

careful
analysis
in terms of

the risks

and

benefits

associated with the potential uptake of any initiative
predicated on them.


This research investigates

the
risks and benefits associated with the use of mobile phones for staying
connected for homeless people, particularly compared
to accessing necessary internet
-
based
services and social inclusion related opportunities on non
-
mobile ICT,
such as
through desk
-
t
op
services available at specialist homelessness services and other public facilities.

The
st
udy
investigates

resources currently

available and accessible to homeless people to assess the degree

of
usefulness, accessibility and availability of public internet access points for homeless people.


The research also investigate
s

the degree to which access points are available and appropriate in
terms of number and location, and the degree to which t
he provision of access points provides an
alternative to mobile internet access. Homeless
people were asked

about their experiences using
both mobile and fixed internet access platforms.



Literature review
:


Recent research
emphasis
es the importance of
electronic connectedness for homeless people in
providing access to friends, family, employment, services, and housing options

(Rice
et al
2010

; Rice
et al,

2011; Rice
et al
,

2012;

Eyrich
-
Garg 2010; Eyrich
-
Garg 2010).
W
hile
the research

is clear that
conn
ectedness is vital to homeless people, there
are

inconsistencies and
a
lack of clarification
around

how homeless people
connect electronically, and around how they
use mobile
phones

to
connect. The research of Rice
et
al

(
2010, 2011
,
and 2012
) ranges from
studies that indicate how
important

cell


phones are in staying connected, to reali
s
ing that connection is not just related to
cell phones but also includes
the internet

as a separate entity
, accessed

from a wider variety of
sources including libraries an
d service agencies.

Rise (2010) further acknowledges that his ‘data is
imprecise with respect to the use of social networking technology. Unfortunately, data often does
not differentiate among social ties maintained through email, social networking websites, a cellular
telep
hone, texting

or a standard phone accessed at an social service agency’ (Rice
,

2010
,

p591).


Research into the health related benefits of homeless youth using the internet reveal
s

that homeless
youth use mobile phones to stay connected with family, friends
, health professionals, case workers,
social support, and employers (Rice
,

et al
,

2011, 2010, 2012)
.

Previous

research highlights

the
importance of staying
electronically
connected, with homeless people in a shelter using mobile
phone
s

to ‘increase their s
ense of safety



and
social connectedness
(Eyrich
-
Garg
,

2010
,

p365
).
The
6


importance of connectedness is expressed throughout the research as ‘homeless individuals who
perceive themselves as having greater access to their social support networks have better

physical
and mental health outcomes as well as lower rates of victimization’ (Eyrich
-
Garg
,

2010). Rice
emphasi
s
es
the point that
social connectedness is vital in

homeless youth adopting safe sex practices
among HIV/AIDS risk group and those with mental he
alth issues (Rice
,

et al
,

2011, 2010, 2012)
.



Rice concludes

that access to internet is a major issue, and that it is different from having a mobile
phone. He states that ’96.5%

of surveyed adolescents in 2009 reported internet use, and most
accessed the
internet at public libraries or youth service agencies


(Rice
,

et al
,

2010)
. In

2012
,

Rice
concluded that ‘contacting home
-
based friends through social networking technology was found to
be protective for depression. Community
-
based and public agencies ser
ving homeless adolescents
should consider facil
itating or maintenance of these

protective relationships by providing internet
access’
(Rice
,

2012
,

p692
)
.

Hendy
et al

(2011) note

that social networking sites may be particularly
useful for psychosocial devel
opment and maintain close connection with family and friends.


Electronic connectedne
ss is an important issue

for homeless people.
H
ow homeless people access
these modes of connectedness is
ano
the
r

significant issue
.

In determining how homeless people use
mobile technology, definitions of mobile phones, their usage and type, require clarification

in terms
of
whether the target group used mobile phones strictly as a telephone and text means of
communication, or to access social media and the internet to stay

connected. As Lawder (2012)
states, ‘a smartphone is a mobile phone built on a mobile operating system, with more advanced
computing capacity than a (non
-
smart) phone’ (Lawder, 2012).


In t
he study

‘Sheltered in cyberspace? Computer use among the unshelte
red ‘street’ homeless’,
Eyrich
-
Garg (2011) confirms

that homeless people want to be connected,
and are used to m
obile
phone
s
, but also want to use the internet separately and in different ways. Smartphones are too
expensive
to purchase and use
, so many
homeless people access the internet in a myriad of ways
.
These

includ
e
through

public libraries
,

university
libraries, and

social service agencies (e.g. drop
-
in
centres, unemployment assistance agencies, coffee shops, churches,
friends’

homes, work, hotel
lobbies
)
.

In
Eyrich
-
Garg
’s study
, 100

people
were interviewed and only 9 used their mobile phone to
conduct

computer


or internet operations (Eyrich
-
Garg
2011

p299
).
I
n the
study

‘How to Integrate
digital media in
to

a drop
-
in for homeless young people for deepening relationships between youth
and adults

,
Hendy et al (2011)

confirm

the

variety of ways in which

homeless youth access the
internet including

through
internet cafes and public

libraries.

The barriers

to a
ccess

are outlined
,
with homeless youth not having ready
access to

computers, cafes being expensive,

libraries
limiting
computer time
, and being booked, with
public demand exceeds supply

(
Hendy
,

et al
,

2011
,

p775
).


Investigations
by
Taylor (2011)
,

in the study ‘Social Media as a Tool for Inclusion’
,

highlight

th
at
homeless people
stay

connected
in
a variety

of ways,
including

by using mobile phones

and

fixed
-
point

internet platforms. Th
e

research

notes

that ‘
shelters

are trying to respond to the we
b
-
based
needs of the homeless
by setting up computer labs, and the demand for time on computers is high.
Homeless peopl
e use computers to find housing
, look for jobs, create
resumes, and
/or do homework
for the c
o
urses they are taking’ (Taylor
,

2011
,

p2)

The

research
here
reflects
the findings of this
study.

Taylor (2011)
acknowledges the

reality that the basic needs of homeless people

(
shelter

and
food
)

are

the highest

priority,
but she concludes that
connectivity is a necessity and a right as lack of
in
ternet access is isolating and exclusionary

(Taylor
,

2011
,

p19).


Free public internet does exist in public libraries, some shelters, drop
-
in centres and mobile bus
programs, and there are free WiFi

hot spots if one has a digital device. Access barriers to free public
internet platforms include lack of computers in places where homeless people live and congregate;
short supply of computers in those places of access; time limitations on computer usage

in those
7


places of access; and costs associated with private internet access places such as internet cafes.
Woelfer & Hendry (2012) discovered other risks associated with homeless people using smartphones

in their study
,

Homeless Young People and Technol
ogy: Ordinary Interactions, Extraordinary
Circumstances’
. Homeless people may

pawn or sell digital devices if necessary to buy essentials su
ch
a food, or pay rent. They may

give them to others if they p
erceive their need to be greater
.

A
fter
giving 12 home
less young people an
I
pad as part of a 2010 study
, Woelfer and Hendry

found that
only two had retained them after a year

(
Woelfer and Hendry
, 2011)
.
Although internet access and
staying connected is very important, ‘homeless young people’s ability to hold
onto personal digital
technologies is contingent on meeting immediate needs’

(
Woelfer and Hendry
,
2011
, p72
),
and the
I
pad
s were sold, pawned,

or

given away in order to meet immediate needs such as rent and/or food.

One participant in their study notes tha
t
‘When you’re homeless, and have things of value, you’d
rather have the money than the valuable thing’

(Woelfer and Hendry
,

2011
,

p72
)
.


The literature
establish
es that

homeless

people
are well
connected. Connections occur through

a
variety of pathways,
and
this has

health

and security benefits
.
Pathways or m
odes of connections
vary and

are cost
-
sensitive.
Many

homeless people
have mobile

phones,

but
the
majority only

use
them

as
a basic

telephone

and
texting
mechanism.

Rice (2011) reports that a
non
-
smart

is more
commonly used as a
communication
device
.
Taylor (2011) reports that ‘almost all homeless people
own cell phones (most using a pay
-
as
-
you
-
go system) and participate in text messaging. A few own
laptops but very few have smartphones’ (Taylo
r
,

2011
,

p15).



Access to the internet then becomes a separate activity

to mobile phone use
.
H
omeless people, like
most other people
, need
ICTs

to
stay connected through the internet
, especially

as it becomes a
major exit point to independence
(Taylor
,

2011
,

p17)
,

as well as
necessitated

by government

delivery
of services
.

Westbrook (2013) finds that government services and resources are increasingly
available only via the internet (Westbrook
,

2013
,

p33)
,

while Lawder observes that ‘Australian
governmen
ts are steadily adopting
ICTs

for the delivery of services’ (Lawder
,

2012
, p
5).


In a climate of ICT dependency, the combination of the importance of internet access, the limitations
in the availability of fixed point ICT access and the unsuitability of mobile ICT platforms has potential
implications for homeless people.
The limited
am
ount

of research on this topic, plus the confusion
that

does exist in the literature on

how mobile phones

are
used and how

the
internet

is accessed

ensures that r
esearchers and the public continue to make assumptions that access is
easy
,

convenient

and equ
al for everyone,
and
that
a
mobile

phone

equals internet access
. A case in point
is Lawder’s suggestion that
‘a smartphone offers a cheap way to communicate’, recommending

developing

cost effective programs for smartphone u
se by disadvantaged populations’

(Lawder,
2012)
.

Further,
Guadagno (2013) finds that there
is a similarity

of social
network and technology

use
between college students and homeless young adults
. S
he
states
that
a
‘digital divide’ in internet
access should be re
-
thought
,

as her findings discovered that differences between college or
university

undergraduates and age
-
matched homeless youth program participants is mainly in types
of intern
et use and not access to the internet, and that divide is relatively minor.

She says,
‘Since it is
clear that the proportions of undergraduates and homeless young adults accessing social networking
sites are similar, we assert that
the term

digital divide is not descriptive of the young adult
population


(
Guadagno
,
2013
, p88
).
This study ge
nerated the headline
,

‘Study: 75
Per cent

of
Homeless

Youth Use Online Social Media
(Mad
rigal 2012), positioning

homeless youth as having
equal internet access as others.

However, Guadagno’s
research acknowledges
that
differences lie in
‘types of usage esp
ecially where fees, quality of access, connection reliability and strength and
quality of software and hardware’
are concerned
(Guadagno
,

et al
,

2013
,

p88
)
. In other words, there
are differences between population cohorts in terms of capacity to connect. The research here
investigates how homeless people negotiate their ICT connectivity and how the capacity
to connect

could be further facilitated.

8


PURPOSE

AN
D OBJECTIVES


Purpose
:


This paper seek
s to provide evi
dence from homeless people and from services where homeless
people access the internet
in Adelaide metropolitan area
to determine
how
homeless people
stay

digitally

connected
.

Types of
ICTs

and how they are used are investigated.

Why and what the
internet is

used for is discussed.

Homeless
people
’s stories
of their

experiences of the barriers or
obstacle
s to staying connected

are explored
.


This research also seek
s to investigate
the claim
that

‘a smartphone offers a cheap way to
communicate’

for homeless people (Lawder, 2012).
The
service and policy
implication
s of such

claims
mean that they
require careful analysis
:
a mobile device is a social connection tool
,

but

i
s it a
burden if costs
are not addressed?

Does the monetary value
that

homeless people place on a
smartphone provide a risk compared to fixed
-
point access? What other benefits
d
o fixed
-
point
facilities offer that mobile platforms do not? Will homeless people see smartphones as a debt trap?
These are the questions which nest
within
th
is research’s
core

investigation
.


This paper investigate
s

homeless people’s views on what

kind of interne
t access would be

most
effective within a context of
increasing requirement
s to

apply
online
for services
.
Staff observations
also
contribute to the research,
in a context of
limitations of
access to the internet
within their

own
agencies or services.


Objectives:




The research
investig
at
es

whether homeless people use mobile phones or non
-
mobile
information and communication technologies (ICTs) to access the internet and stay
connected.




The research investigates whether there is an unmet need in the pro
vision of public, fixed
-
point internet access for homeless people, or whether mobile phones are the ICT of choice
for homeless people and their means of staying connected to the world, as well as being an
important link to networks and connections which un
derpin homeless people’s potential for
exiting home
lessness. The study investigates

resources currently available and accessible to
homeless people to assess the degree of usefulness, accessibility and availability of public
internet access points for home
less people, as well as desk
-
top services available to
homeless clients at specialist homelessness services
. The research also investigates

the
degree to which access points are available and appropriate in terms of number and
location, and the degree to w
hich the provision of access points provides an alternative to
mobile internet access.




The project tests the hypothesis that the target group utilise mobile phones for access to a
range of internet
-
based services, including government services, email and

social media.
Claims of how homeless people access the internet and how they are accessing it were
investigated.



9




The research investigates the risks and benefits associated with the use of mobile phones for
staying connected for homeless people,
particularly compared to accessing necessary
internet based services and social inclusion related opportunities on non
-
mobile ICT
s
.

METHOD
OLOGY


In order to facilitate an in depth understanding of the issues faced both by those experiencing
homelessness as well as those working in
services

where homeless people use fixed point ICTs,

a

qualitative approach
was

used in this study. This approach is re
cognised for its ability to elicit in
depth, complex and subjective data in small sample groups. However, it is limited in its ability to
provide data that is representative or
generalis
able

to entre population groups (Neuman, 2000;
Sarantakos, 1998)
.


I
n
terviews were
conducted with homeless people and relevant service staff.

The interviews

were

semi structured with broad, open
-
ended questions to prompt conversation. The questions were
structured as such to not only identify themes that constituted meaning
ful data, but to listen for
ideas and inspirations that might come from the stories of single respondents, which are best
elicited by open conversations (Neuman, 2000; Sarantakos, 1998
)
.


Following approval for this research from The University of
Adelaide’s NHMRC constituted Human
Research Ethics Committee, a

variety of homelessness services
across metropolitan Adelaide
were

contacted
to seek
preliminary information on where homeless people
access
publically available
internet services. Those servi
ces

were

then
contacted and given an information sheet and the
opportunity to consent to being involved in the research.
Consent was similarly
sought from

homeless interviewees.



Interviews were conducted with workers in services where homeless people use

fixed access
internet services (libraries, community centres, social service sites, government sites, and
elsewhere as identified).

Interviews

with staff and homeless people
were

used to investigate the
experiences of homeless people in regards to ICTs, the experiences of homelessness services that
already provide internet access fo
r their clients, as well as how

homeless

people

in South Australia
use other free public internet ac
cess points
.


Data
was analysed using thematic analysis techniques. Following an in
-
depth reading of the
interview data
,

opening coding was utilised to identify primary themes (Neuman 2000). Following
this
,

the d
ata was reread, the primary them
es reviewed,

and any sub themes identified (Neuman
2000).
K
ey quotes

were aligned with identified themes
.


Participants:


17 participants were interviewed across five sites in the Adelaide metropolitan area. 1
5

women and
2 men took part in the interviews.

One woman
identified her parents as Italian heritage, one woman
was from Iran but migrated 30 years ago, and two were indigenous women.

Eleven participants
identified as Australian. Five women had youngest children aged 4 years or under, one had a primary
school age
d child and one had a child in high school. One participant was aged 16 years, five aged 18
to 24 years, five were aged 25
-
34, four aged 35
-
50 years and three were aged over 50. As described
by Chamberlain (1999), one participant was experiencing primary h
omelessness (sleeping in a car),
while the other

sixteen

participants were categorised as secondary homeless, either living in
transitional housing such as supported accommodation, or living temporarily with friends and/or
family or in one case, recuperati
ng in a mental health hospital facility.



10


The length of time people had been homeless varied. Nine participants had been homeless for less
than six weeks, six had been homeless for between six weeks to six months and two had been
homeless for 6 months to

one year.


1
6 staff from various organisations where fixed
-
point ICTs were

available to homeless people were
also interviewed.

Most were from agencies catering specifically for homeless people, and others
managed fixed
-
point internet access services in
sites including libraries

and

community centres.


RESULTS

AND DISCUSSION
:


Key themes identified through interviews with participants were
the use of mobile phones
,
using the
internet
, and
the issue of computer training and literacy.

Each of these themes
are expanded on in
turn.


The use of mobile phones


All
homeless
participants acknowledged the importance of using their phone to stay connected, and
all recognised the need to use the internet.
Mobile phones we
re important
for
staying connected to
frien
ds, families, workers, services and

government agencies
. This point
wa
s confirmed

by
interviewees

in this study
, with participant views broadly reflecting
r
esults from overseas literature:
t
he need to stay connected for hom
eless people is vital (Taylor 2
01
1; Rice 2012; Eyrich
-
Garg

2011)
for a variety of reasons including the
avoid
ance of

isolation,
the
reduc
tion

of

boredom,

to

improve
mental health,
to
reduce health and safety risks, and discover

to

exit points from homelessness and
often, unemployment.


A
ll
homeless
p
articipants used a mobile phone. Thirteen participants had non
-
smart phones and
four

had smartphones. All of the participants used their mobile phone to stay connected to family

and

friends, for safety, for speaking to social service workers,
and for
making appointment
s

for health
care

and employment.
All

homeless

participants used pre
-
paid credit, and if they ran out of credit,
they had no phone access.


Using the internet


Fifteen
interviewed
participants

indicated
that
they did not use their

mobile phone fo
r

internet
access, and t
wo
interviewed
participants

indicated
that
they used

their phone for internet access
.
However, one

of these
admitted that the cost was so high
that
she made other
sacrifices
(
including
her

budget for transport costs) to afford

it.

She also
used her mobile phone
-
based

internet in
combination
with the usage of
fixed
-
point

computers at public libraries to
download, create
documents and have longer searche
s

for information.
The other smartphone

user preferred not to
use the internet access on her phone

as she was in a
crisis

and

needed

to
be able to
rely on pre
-
paid
credit to
connect with services urgently.


The financial risks linked to using mobile platforms as ICTs are largely prohibitive
for homeless
people. When asked if she used the internet on her mobile phone, one participant commented,


Oh God no, are you kidding? Why would I do that? It is so expensive. Have you seen what they
charge?


Other participants said:


We can hardly afford
credit for our phone, why would we use a smartphone?

11



I make manual trips to services to avoid using the phone. It would be worse if I used internet
on the phone.


No, no I’d never use the internet on the phone. I can’t afford it.


I prioritise my credit
all the time. It goes on calls and texts. I inherited my smartphone but don’t
use the internet. I make sure I have enough for calls, which is the most important thing after
food and other bills


Other obstacles to smartphone use include risks of theft, an
d of losing or pawning phones. These
risks exist with non
-
smart phones, but are magnified with smartphones

by virtue of their greater
value
. One young participant interviewed for this research confirmed this view, saying,


No, why would you use one of thos
e phones? They get broken, need more power to recharge,
the screen gets smashed, and they use up too much money. There’s no point.


Staff who were interviewed also noted that even if smartphones become more generally cost
effective, they do not cover all t
he requirements of internet use such as the ability to print and to
populate complex documents with ease.


However, homeless people do have to access the internet. They require the internet for as many
purposes as the general population. They use it to as
an exit tool to secure housing and
employment. As Taylor states, ‘there is a growing acknowledgement in the literature that
connectivity is a necessity and a right’ (Taylor 2012
, p19
). ICT connections are the building blocks to
independence. As one partici
pant said,


When you think about it, internet access is a huge thing, and how to use it, and where to find
it, I never realized the impact.


The findings illustrated through these comments are in contrast to Lawder’s

comments that
‘smartphones offer a cheap way to communicate’ (Lawder 2012). This is not the reality for homeless
people.


All participants used fixed
-
point platforms to access the internet. The dominant reasons for this
were cost avoidance and the need to

perform
activities

which could only been undertaken by desk
top computers. These activities included downloading forms and printing. Social media connections
were often carried out through computers due to costs.


Accessing the internet was a matter of fi
ndi
ng ad hoc ‘wriggle’ spaces to suit

needs. Participants
accessed the internet
from their parents’
house,

or through friends,
from public libraries

and
university libraries
,

from staff at shelters
who printed

out
material,

and
from
cheap internet cafés
.


Public internet platforms exist at libraries, community centres
, Housing

SA reception

and Centrelink
.
The latter two are not useful in terms of a variety of applications such as connecting with family and
friends,

as the fixed
-
points are only av
ailable
for the purposes of the

agency. Centrelink computers
are only to connect with Centrelink online,
and
Housing SA computers are only
for rental property
searches.


Public libraries can
also
provide o
bstacles to access
.

Many of the participants f
ound public
libraries
daunting and lacked
confidence

to

ask for help or reveal their lack of skill
s. High demand and time
12


limits we
re also barriers. Those
participants
with young children found it very difficult to access the
internet at libraries for any length of ti
me, and

to
supervise

children as well
.
Participants noted
frustration at needing
to go separately to
different agencies to satisfy different internet needs. One
staff member said,


A Safe environment to access the internet where they can do all their
business in one location
is vital, otherwise they spend time and money travelling physically to each government service,
an agency or rental properties
.


There was an enormous variety of access in homeless shelters/transition accommodation or drop
-
in
centr
es. Some agencies had no
fixed
-
point

internet for usage by their clients,
and staff

printed out
rental property listings or employment opportunities. Other agencies had supervised access to the
internet, but still printed out material. Another agency had a
n education and training unit, and so
had at least
four computers

that clients could access when not used for teaching purposes.


Participants indicated what
ICT

availability they would like to see,

suggesting a need for access to
more fixed
-
point
computers and

a wider range of places

with fixed
-
p
oint access, including shelters

and government departments.
Staff
who were interviewed
expressed

interest in the mobile bus
programs in NSW and Victoria
,

where fixed
-
point platforms are part of the services

offered in the
bus
,

enabling homeless people to access the internet where they congregate.


The issue of c
omputer training and literacy:



Participants with low computer literacy relied on staff in shelters or government agencies to print
out material fo
r them and to help them access service information.
At least three

participants
did
not access the internet
unless

mediated by a service provider,
due to

incapacity resulting from

lack
of training

opportunities,

poor experiences with training,
and learning difficulties. The age of these
participants ranged
from a woma
n in her mid to late twenties,
to two participants

aged over fifty.

These participants had missed

out
on
using computers by leaving
school

before computers were
generally available
,

by

not having employment that requires wide computer skills
,

or having learning
difficulties
.

A
ll
were
daunted by

entering public spaces like
libraries, and this fear was shared by a
number of the fourteen participants who did have the

level of skills required to access the internet

by themselves
.



Summary:


This
research
evidences the fact that

homeless people use
mobile
phones, but not
without risk, and
not
for the internet. The
internet

is critical
to homeless people,
but current
access is unsuitable,
lea
ving a service gap and jeopardis
ing an important means of connectedness and
pathway

from
homelessness. It is
increasingly

impossible to exit homelessness without accessing the internet
, as
public and private services increasingly r
equire interaction with an electronic interface
.

The
capacity

of homeless people to connect with services and opportunities is diminished by the limited number
of suitably placed and suitably supported fixed
-
point ICTs available to homeless people with va
rying
degrees of computer literacy.



13


POLICY/PROGRAM
IMPLICATIONS


O
ne staff member
who was interviewed
commented

that,


The

government create a situation where they give information, advice, encourage clients to
be independent but they do not give
them
the

tools, or access to the tools, or understanding of
the tools

to be able to do it yourself.


The implications which can be drawn from the research here are that, in a climate of increasing
internet dependency, ICTs are critical to homeless people and their wellbeing. However, ICT
accessibility

is inadequate for homeless people, with available
ICTs

largely being inappropriate due
to
prohibitive

costs and related risks (with mobile ICTs), unsuitable functionality (with some service
-
based ICTs), inappropriate location (with other public ICTs), or inadequate support (with most
available ICTs, for peopl
e who need support to increase ICT capacity).


These inadequacies point directly to the potential for mitigating policy and program responses.

One
response and attempt to provide

appropriate
I
CT
access for homeless people
is demonstrated in the
provision

o
f facilities
by

the Melbourne and Sydney Chatterbox Bus program
s

developed by Open
Family Australia
. Similar
outreach programs
which offer fixed
-
point ICT access are
conducted by the
Salvation Army in Melbourne, Sydney and the Hunter region in New South
Wales.



The buses illustrate an innovative
attempt

to meet homeless people in a space which is
appropriate

for them, and to provide necessary ICT access which takes account of the risks and deficiencies
associated with alternative ICT access options, as identified in this research. An imp
ortant facet of
this response is

the ability for services to offer capaci
ty
-
building

support where required, and this is
a service need which could be met through the bus programs cited here, or

through other existing
services which are already frequented by homeless people.
As one participant said,


I
t would be easier to be ho
meless and get out of it if shelters has internet access s
o I didn’t
have to go elsewhere.


Homeless people
may
feel stigmati
s
ed

and confronted by a
pproaching unfamiliar places
to use ICT
services which may not be appropriate to their needs in any case.

Providing
more supported ICT
options in
existing
agencies
and services
, or delivering fixed
-
point access to the streets,
would
ensure

that homeless people’s capacity to stay connected, to develop the skills required to
independently navigate ICTs, and to m
aximise their chances of exiting homelessness were enhanced.


This research demonstrates a need to facilitate this service or program response.


Recommendations:




Improve access to fixed
-
point ICTs

for homeless people
.




Ensure that fixed
-
point computers
are

available where homeless people
congregate.




Provide funding to encourage

agencies to provide more fixed point access

at services used
by homeless people
, especially in supp
orted accommodation situations
.




Encourage agencies to provide ICT

training
for

those homeless people still slipping through
the cracks of digital technology.


14




Enable

agencies

to
provide
ICT
outreach
services
in safe and friendly environment
s

such as
mobile
service buses
.


FURTHER DEVELOPMENTS


Literature
from
countries such
as Canada,
the
UK

and Australia

largely ignore
s

the

issue of internet
interactivity and its impact on inclusi
on

and homelessness
.
Taylor (2011)
observes that
research on
homelessness pays little attention to the role of internet access.

She comments

that research

in the
Canadian context
has

overlooked the role of the internet as a source of essential information,
autonomy and personal growth. This
also
appe
ars to be the case in Australia, suggesting that there is
scope to:




Encourage researchers to
f
urther investigate
the
actual and potential
impact of
ICTs
on the
lives
of homeless
people,
so

as to inform policies and programs.




Investigate initiatives which
encourage service
organisations (
especially those with clients in
transitional accommodation)
to improve
ICT access and training
.





Investigate the importance
of currently available, free

internet kiosks and technology skills
training for seniors, in regards to the experience of homelessn
ess.




Further investigate what ICT skills are most needed by pe
ople experiencing homelessness.





Investigate whether the ICT issues highlighted in Adelaide are also
present in other
jurisdictions.


CONCLUSION


ICT participation enhances existing
relationships, opens doors to information, diminishes feelings of
isolation and fosters community engagement (Taylor 2011). With these connections, it is difficult to
exit

homelessness, but without them

it is much less possible.
This research supports the
idea that
ICTs are important to homeless people. The research demonstrates the difficulties which homeless
people face when attempting to connect to internet
-
based communications
. T
he research evidences
the fact that homeless people use mobile phones, but
not without risk, and not for the internet. The
internet is critical to homeless people, but current access is unsuitable, leaving a service (and
supporting policy) gap.


The capacity of homeless people to connect with services and opportunities is dimini
shed by the
limited number of suitably placed and suitably supported fixed
-
point ICTs available to homeless
people with varying degrees of computer literacy.

Some agencies
which serve homeless clients
have
creative and innovative programs to meet the ICT
needs of homeless people in a way which aligns
with the criteria for appropriateness and
accessibility

outlined within this research, but others
do
not extend to ICT provision.


This research demonstrates that there is an important u
nmet need for access to fixed
-
point
ICT
platforms
for
homeless people
.
T
he study
demonstrates that,
contrary to the
assumption that

homeless

people
can rely

on mobile phones for internet use
,

the opposite
appears to be

true.
Homeless people rely on mobile phones as the first l
ine
of
connection to society, whilst

accessing
and using the internet
through non
-
mobile platforms
.
In a climate of increasing requirements to
access services and opportunities online, there is an
important need to foster inclusiveness for
15


homeless people by providing appropriate and accessible fixed point ICT services

and support

in
ways and in spaces which are relevant to and comfortable for homeless people.


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