Making Connections: Young People, Homelessness and Digital Access in the City

Developing solutions and partnerships with young people experiencing, or at risk of, homelessness, to support and enhance their digital access.

'If it wasn't for my phone I'd be sleeping in my car, with the phone I can get into a refuge and have a roof over my head at least.'

– Study participant

'It's essential to be connected when experiencing, or at risk of, homelessness, but mobiles and internet access don't come cheap.'

– Dr Justine Humphry, lead researcher on a new project on how to improve digital access and connectivity within city centres.

Project Overview

Research shows a clear need for different forms of digital access for people experiencing, or at risk of, homelessness in central city areas. There is strong demand for public, safe, affordable spaces to go online and charge phones, and a need for local, real time information on relevant services such as food vans, accommodation support, public toilets and showers (Humphry, 2014).

'Making Connections', a Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre funded research project led by Dr Justine Humphry, studied the information and communication needs of young people experiencing, or at risk of, homelessness. The research developed solutions and partnerships, working with young people to support and enhance their access to, and use of, digital technology—including mobile phones, internet and other digital services.

Working with young people recruited from a range of youth-based homelessness services in and around the central districts of Sydney and Parramatta, the project involved a series of participatory innovation workshops. The first of these workshops, held in November 2015, focused on the design of projects to address digital access gaps and improve access to and connectivity with support services and social networks. The second, held in February 2016, saw young people work with relevant stakeholders—such as local government, businesses, charities, telecommunication companies, support services and libraries—to develop ways to financially support and implement these projects.

Final Report and Findings

The findings of this project are detailed in the following final report: Humphry, J & Pihl, K 2016, Making Connections: Young People, Homelessness and Digital Access in the City (opens in a new window), Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre, Melbourne.

Based on the findings a number of recommendations are proposed to address the unmet connectivity needs of young people who are homeless:

1. Digital access services and programs that address these key connectivity principles:

  • Free and widespread access to power
  • Availability of free WiFi/mobile & fixed internet
  • Robust devices and affordable mobile plans
  • Security of belongings and self
  • Enhanced access to support services

2. Develop, prototype and evaluate the 'Connect, Charge & Go' and 'Library As Catalyst' projects in consultation with stakeholders and young people.

3. Create a comprehensive and accessible directory of digital access sites and services, such as locations of free WiFi, and publicise widely to youth centres, homelessness services and the general public.

4. Promote the adoption of secure charging lockers by relevant organisations that are well placed to serve the homeless population and publicise widely.

5. Develop Universal Service Obligations and a public WiFi program that meets the requirements for affordable and mobile access for all and which is suitable for low income and disadvantaged Australians.

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