When you picture a homeless person you may not imagine them holding a mobile phone but recent research indicates that it is more common than you may think. For people without stable accommodation owning a mobile can be a way of keeping of safe and navigating a path out of homelessness.
A study recently published by the University of Sydney showed that the majority of homeless people owned a phone. The study, involving 95 clients of specialist homelessness services across inner and outer metropolitan Sydney and Melbourne, found that mobile phones are essential for survival and safety, job prospects and for moving out of homelessness.
“It’s essential to be connected when experiencing, or at risk of, homelessness,” said University of Sydney researcher Dr Justine Humphry, who undertook the study funded by the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network’s Grants Scheme.
“Mobile phones help people survive and stay safe in situations of heightened risk. Mobile phones also play a critical role in helping people move out of homelessness and gain financial stability.”
For young people, smartphone use has been found to produce positive outcomes, such as the widening of young people’s social networks due to the ease of contact, increased feelings of safety and security, particularly for young females, and improved contact between parents and children.
However, it is important to be wary when looking at the percentage of mobile ownership by homeless people as just because they may have mobile phones doesn’t mean they are able to make or receive calls or access online services readily. The research found that service restrictions, such as lack of power to recharge phones, changes in phone number and shortage of credit, meant access was partial or disconnected.
Seeing mobile ownership as a way forward, some support services are teaming up with telecommunication companies to provide better access to mobile phones. In one program special software has been developed by Vodafone and stored on donated mobile phones. These are provided to young clients of Barnardos and Mission Australia enabling them to stay connected with their friends, families, agencies and support services. This initiative is helping young people to better manage their lives, improve their connectedness, assist them in times of crisis and enables case workers to provide round-the-clock support.
So next time you see a person living rough with a mobile, remind yourself that it may very well be a lifeline for them for services, support, social connection and a pathway to a better life.