A digital salvation for the homeless

From a talk by Chris Holmes, director of Shelter, the charity for the homeless, given at a Labour conference fringe meeting

Share

The digital revolution opens up huge new opportunities for increased access to information and increased choice for people facing housing difficulties. New technology enables Shelter's clients to retrieve information and advice when and where they need it - but only if they have access. Shelterline is our 24-hour housing advice service, which uses specifically developed technology, which provides round-the-clock access to the local information needed to solve a housing crisis.

The digital revolution opens up huge new opportunities for increased access to information and increased choice for people facing housing difficulties. New technology enables Shelter's clients to retrieve information and advice when and where they need it - but only if they have access. Shelterline is our 24-hour housing advice service, which uses specifically developed technology, which provides round-the-clock access to the local information needed to solve a housing crisis.

For example, Becky, a young mother, recently rang Shelterline late one night from a call-box. She had escaped from her violent partner, who had followed her, and whom our adviser could hear threatening her. We phoned the local police, who turned up and took him away and at the same time found Becky a place in a local refuge. As long as there is access, technology can provide human solutions.

The Government's Social Exclusion Unit found that, currently, a significant proportion of the internet has neither the content nor the language for people on the other side of the so-called digital divide.

We support the Government in its quest to ensure that all job vacancies are on the Web, and hope that homes will find a place there, too. At Shelter, we believe that making content relevant to everyone's lives is essential to transforming take-up.

People have to be motivated to get over what for some is the huge hurdle of using new technology. The Social Exclusion Unit found that the least likely users were those who had had an off-putting experience of education, those for whom English was not a first language, and women. Currently, the majority of users belong to the top socio-economic group. We need to use our experiences of working with government and business to democratise the new economy and ensure that it is open to all.

Shelter is developing Shelter Online to provide housing information through the Web. Shelter Online will provide easy-to-use advice on tenants' rights and other common problems. As more people, particularly children, increasingly use the Web as their first place to look for information, we must make sure that the help they need is there. We are also looking at new ways that people could find a home over the Web. The future of lettings by council and housing associations is going to change radically.

But new technologies can accentuate inequalities. We must change this. Shelter believes government support is essential in backing ideas and initiatives that open up access to the most disadvantaged, thereby tackling social exclusion. In the short term, access issues can be addressed by placing computers in local centres, post offices and libraries. But such access is meaningless if it isn't underpinned by human advice, support and training. Information isn't knowledge, and knowledge isn't understanding.

Ultimately, what we seek is an integrated approach involving both local and central government with the not-for-profit sector. An approach that combines our experience and expertise with a commitment to universal access and universal gain from the new economy. This is the key to tackling social exclusion.

The challenge, then, is to deliver an integrated service. We need to maximise the increased efficiency that online services bring. We need to build on the trust that the public has in us, offering independent advice, finding ways through complex situations, being there when people need face-to-face support.

In conclusion, as not-for-profit organisations, it is essential that we are forward-thinking, that we recognise that the lives of the people we work with are going to change over the next five, 10, 20 years, and that we must make sure our services are still useful and relevant. Business and government need to recognise that we can help them. Together we can improve access and bridge the digital divide.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: A widow’s tale with an unexpected twist

John Rentoul
 

For all his faults, Russell Brand is utterly sincere, something politicians should emulate

Janet Street-Porter
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing