Black’s Blog: Technology First … then Housing?



Jimmy Black highlights the importance of bridging the technology gap if people who are homeless or in temporary accommodation are to access vital services.

Rummage in your pocket and you may find a powerful computer. You can talk through it and look things up. Now imagine you’re roofless, skint, with no data. How do you keep in touch with your kids, ‘like’ their posts from the sports day, reassure your family?

Also, you’re helpless. You can’t easily access private rental sites, ask for benefits or check the jobsites. You are disconnected from your networks. Without access to the internet, you are reliant on finding busy humans to speak to you when everything is “Digital First”. Such humans are elusive and tend to exist at the end of a long bus ride.

What’s worse is that you also become elusive. Without a working phone and access to the internet, how is anyone going to contact you, swiftly, as you sofa surf or sleep rough?

Once you’re in temporary accommodation, things might get better. Perhaps you’ll have wifi in your hostel room and the loan of a tablet or pc. Or if you’re in a flat, part of the high rental cost might be used to provide a broadband connection. In reality, finding budgets to pay for this is a struggle for any temporary accommodation provider and I doubt it happens everywhere.

Changes in healthcare will make possession of a working smartphone even more important. GP surgeries and hospital outpatient clinics are beginning to use videoconsulting for follow up appointments. Psychologists use videolinks to provide talking therapies, and NHS Inform has been created to help people find accurate medical information on the internet.

People with diabetes are monitoring their condition through NHS apps, and the Scottish Government is encouraging people to record their blood pressure on mobiles. None of this is available to you if you have no phone. And all of it could be helpful to homeless people.

So what’s my point? Housing Options, Housing First and probably every other service aims to provide person centred support. Providing access to the internet… a free data sim or broadband in temporary accommodation… could help homeless people stay in touch with the rest of their world, have better access to healthcare and sort out some of their own problems.

  • Jimmy Black works in Technology Enabled Care for Dundee Voluntary Action

Find out more about the Dundee TEC Project here.



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