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370,000 Essential Services Provided to Australia's Homeless Population

Australia
The Atlas Community Team

Project Status

Operational since 2016

At a Glance

Lack of knowledge around the availability of services is a serious problem for Australia’s homeless population. To better engage this hard-to-reach population, the local government designed a web app to make finding and evaluating services easy for the nation’s homeless population.

Problem Addressed

In Australia, more than 116,000 people were estimated to be homeless on Census Night in 2016, and nearly 60% of those people were under 35 years of age. For young people experiencing homelessness, meeting basic needs like water, food, and a place to sleep can take up much of their time and energy. Furthermore, connecting these individuals with necessary services can be a difficult task for local governments looking to provide solutions.

Services are offered by a variety of sources, particularly in capital cities and major towns where the majority of individuals experiencing homelessness live. However, young people experiencing homelessness in regional centers don’t tend to travel to large cities and towns despite better access to accommodation and other services. Lack of knowledge around the availability of services is also a serious problem, and is one of the major barriers to service usage. Youth who have experienced homelessness for a short period of time are much less likely than others to know of service availability and quality. According to 2014 research by the University of Sydney, 95% of homeless individuals have access to a mobile phone, but usage to find services can be limited by a number of factors. Additionally, because these individuals spend much of their time meeting basic needs, a negative initial experience in utilizing services is likely to prevent them from engaging again. For this reason, the initial experience with homeless services is critical in determining future service usage.

Homelessness research has consistently identified young people as being apprehensive about seeking help from formal support services, and only resorting to seeking assistance from such services once they had exhausted all help from relatives and friends. Some of the major accessibility issues identified by young people in regard to services are: Inflexibility of rules such as curfews, significant wait times, and exclusionary practices by staff.

In order to increase the accessibility of services to the nation’s homeless youth population, the country needed a youth-focused approach.

The government of Australia used/is using a web app connecting individuals to services to address this/these challenge(s).

Solution(s) Used

Since 2016, Australia has been utilizing a web app developed by not-for-profit Infoxchange in partnership with Google, REA Group, and News Corp Australia to connect those experiencing homelessness with housing, meals, money help, counseling, and more. The goal of the web app, Ask Izzy, was to provide a personalised way to connect young people at risk of, or experiencing, homelessness to services.

Although the majority of people experiencing homelessness have smartphones, more than 30% of those phones are disconnected, meaning one’s ability to connect to the internet and access apps like Ask Izzy is inconsistent. Because the project is supported by the Telstra Foundation, Telstra made Ask Izzy free to use on its mobile network, eliminating the need for credit or access to Wi-Fi.

The website has been a success with over 370,000 services listed across Australia and more than 4 million searches on the site since it was first launched. The service is free and, although it requests a person’s location to do location-based searches, anonymous, maintaining its users' need for privacy. In conducting research around ways to update the service and improve its usage among its target youth base, Infoxchange found that young people were more willing to use a chatbot than a website or a voice assistant. The chatbot service, expected to be available soon, will be implemented to help bridge the gap between essential services and the nation’s homeless youth.

Through an ongoing process, Infoxchange is working with young people who were formerly homeless to co-design the chatbot functionality and make it better serve the intended users. Infoxchange CEO David Spriggs says, “It’s important for us to partner closely with service providers and young people with lived experience of homelessness, to ensure we’re developing technology that will help disrupt the cycle of youth homelessness.” The chatbot will provide a more personalized experience for users, bringing a human connection that younger individuals connect to.

Outcomes

  1. Australia’s homeless population has access to over 370,000 services through the website/webapp.
  2. Over 4 million searches have been conducted on the site to locate services
  3. Once released, the chatbot’s personalized approach will focus on connecting more homeless youth with essential services
  4. Enlisting the help of formerly homeless people to design Ask Izzy functionality will ensure it meets the needs of the intended audience
  5. Australia’s population of homeless individuals, a hard-to-reach audience, has a trusted platform to find and evaluate services

Who Should Consider?

Cities and municipalities looking to connect homeless populations with essential services, in a way that best suits homeless individuals, particularly youths.

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