Imagine being homeless, living on the streets without a cell phone. It is nearly impossible for you to stay in contact with anyone beyond your line of sight. Your life is mired in confusion and complicated by lack of efficient communication and access to supportive resources and information.
Now imagine having a reliable smartphone that connects you with critical support services immediately available in your area based on GPS location. At the touch of your fingertips, you can access free food service, shelters, rehabilitation programs, medical care, job seeking and training portals, government benefits and more. Isolation becomes connection – the first step in your ascendancy out of life on the streets.
The existence of a strong support structure – social, governmental and familial – is obviously a critical factor in preventing the descent into homelessness. More important, it is the most effective means by which an individual can climb out of it.
Limited knowledge of and access to available support services present key challenges to overcoming chronic homelessness. Compounding this, there is minimal integration among service providers, which results in redundancy and inefficiency in the allocation and delivery of services.
Enter technology. Smartphones and mobile devices saturate the consumer market, serving as portable, multi-functional devices that bring worlds of information to the user. These devices can easily provide the missing link between homeless support services and the population they intend to benefit.
We propose the development of a mobile-friendly website and/or mobile app that will aggregate information on supportive services and programs for the impoverished. Such services will include government/non-profit assistance programs, shelters, medical and mental health, legal aid, soup kitchens, etc. Based on a client’s biographical profile, the app will connect them to services and organizations most suited to their needs and from whom they are qualified to benefit. Corresponding digitized forms can be pre-populated to streamline the application process. Furthermore, the app will provide pertinent information on nutrition, disease prevention/control, and holistic approaches to managing stress and keeping the body fit and the mind resilient.
All of this information will be delivered through refurbished smartphones, which we also propose to provide. With free WiFi abundantly available to the public, expensive Internet service fees are avoided. WiFi connections would enable the phone to make and receive voice calls and message without the need of a carrier, contracts, or fees. Having access to affordable and reliable telephony services is a critical component for assisting homeless individuals in the ascent out of homelessness. Through the innovative use of free WiFi calling apps in combination with a viable smartphone device, we can enable homeless individuals to remain connected, especially for the purposes of job seeking and social connection.
Further, using recycled smartphones supports the “sustainability” aspect of the project; these used devices will be re-purposed into powerfully integrated tools equipped with anti-theft and recovery software, as well as security features to deter their resale.Once a client no longer requires the need of the device, it can be refreshed and configured for the next person.
Executing this project will require funding for 1) bulk purchase of smartphones from selected vendors and 2) a 2-3 person team to develop the website and/or mobile app.
Project Lantern will enable the impoverished to stay connected. Being homeless is stressful enough without the added psychological effects of isolation and the inability to reach out for help. People are most at risk when they are detached and disconnected from society. Our proposal aims to transform a single smartphone into the “lantern” that lights the pathway out of poverty.
This project lays the foundation for future poverty relief efforts because it addresses some of the greatest challenges in resolving chronic homelessness: the disconnect between the impoverished and services available, and inaccurate estimates of people in need of help and their geographical concentrations. These “lanterns” will provide valuable live data that will inform and compliment future strategies such as The Heart of Delight’s early-stage project, ECO (Ecological Co-Operative). ECO is envisioned as a state-of-the-art, sustainable facility that will provide a healthy, thriving environment supporting individual development, creative expression and productive participation in society.