Putting Smartphones in Young, Homeless Hands

In an age of information and technology, more and more issues everyday are being alleviated with the use of mobile technology and apps. Some causes lend themselves more to technology than others however. In the case of urban homelessness,if an application were to be used for this, the question arises of who this application would be targeted to. Although it concerns homeless individuals, one must take into consideration the extent of these people’s access to technology, if any. Given such a wide array of types of homelessness, it is difficult to predict whether someone can gain access to a computer or a phone. A study done in 2014 entailed a research team giving prepaid phones to 98 homeless youths. The participants were screened in a shelter that is tailored specifically to homeless youths between the ages of 18 and 21. Once given the phones, the participants were contacted for follow up meetings and interviews. The study showed that these youths were most likely to contact the researchers through text messaging and phone calling rather than by means of Facebook messaging. After the first rounds of interviews, a large portion of the youths were retained. (Bender) This not only shows that a large demographic of the homeless population would use technology if offered but it shows even how they prefer to use it. This shows that taking the risk of providing homeless youths with such technology could certainly be very much worth it.

Though the study was certainly successful, it does not provide much more information than how the youths prefer to communicate and how many chose to remain in the study. While useful, this is really only a basis for all that could be accomplished through a program that utilizes an approach like this one. Assuming that phones through some means or another could be distributed to young and homeless individuals, an application targeted towards these same youth is the next logical step. A large concern with homeless youths is that they will get involved with drugs or crime. I believe with the intervention of mobile technology, the numbers of homeless youths going down such paths can be curbed. The way to do this would be to create an app that would allow young homeless individuals to check in with advisors and counselors from anywhere and conversely, allow these same professionals to reach out to these people if a long amount of time passes without any check-in. With such a service, communication would become immensely more efficient. Shelters could advertise when there is open space and could provide a hub for youths to come and if there is not room, an alert can be broadcast.

The numbers of youths using these could be useful as well seeing as percentages and statistics of homeless youths are often all over the board. (Murphy) Hopefully, an application such as this could aid in more accurate statistics.

Of course, there is the issue of how many of these devices could conventionally distributed and how best to make sure youths stick with the program. If the app is not beneficial almost immediately, that could potentially mean a lost phone and youth already.

Bender, K., Begun, S., DePrince, A., Haffejee, B., & Kaufmann, S. (2014). Utilizing Technology for Longitudinal Communication With Homeless Youth. Social work in health care, 53(9), 865-882.

 

Murphy, J., & Tobin, K. (2014). Homelessness in the U.S.: a historical analysis. American Educational History Journal, 41(1-2), 267+.

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