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Community-Collected Data Helps the Homeless

Monday, 9th January 2017 at 2:35 pm
Ellie Cooper, Journalist
Members of the public will soon be able to link people sleeping rough with homelessness services through an online reporting platform, following a recent pilot program in Sydney.

Monday, 9th January 2017
at 2:35 pm
Ellie Cooper, Journalist



Community-Collected Data Helps the Homeless
Monday, 9th January 2017 at 2:35 pm

Members of the public will soon be able to link people sleeping rough with homelessness services through an online reporting platform, following a recent pilot program in Sydney.

During the festive season, crisis centre Jewish House and opinion website The Big Smoke partnered in a campaign to encourage the community to collect and submit real-time data to track rough sleeping numbers and locations.

The online form, titled Don’t Walk By Do Something To Help Our Homeless, asked for the homeless person’s location, approximate age, gender, and any physical or identifying factors, such as whether they were with a pet, as well as if they were seen regularly.

The campaign had close to 150 reports in the week leading up to Christmas.

Jewish House CEO Rabbi Mendel Kastel told Pro Bono News it was an important first step in a community-led and big-data approach to tackling homelessness.

“What it… showed is that people are willing to make reports, and [that] creates a background for us to develop the data collection idea further, in a more serious way down the track… which can then be fed to the outreach services,” Kastel said.

As part of the campaign, Jewish House and The Big Smoke also used the data to deliver care packages to rough sleepers on Christmas Eve.

In what Kastel called an Australian first, the packs included an inflatable couch, which can double as a bed.

“The usual, the blankets, the food, the brushes it’s all done by so many wonderful organisations, so we were thinking: ‘What is it we can do that’s a bit different and that can bring something meaningful to people on that evening?’” he said.

“And we came up with the idea of these inflatable lounges. Then we had to source them, but that was another story.

“We wanted people to feel a bit more comfortable if they were out on the street, and inflatable lounges are obviously a lot more comfortable than sleeping on the pavement or on the ground.”

inflatable couch

Jewish House CEO Rabbi Mendel Kastel and The Big Smoke founder Alexandra Tselios.

The inflatable couches, which are also printed with a homeless helpline number, are designed to be foldable, storable and easy to carry around. 

Kastel said all aspects of the campaign gave the community an opportunity to connect with and take action on the issue of homelessness.

“There was a group of volunteers who went out who were able to interact with the homeless people, and it gave them a real sense that they’re people just like anyone else and each one has a story,” he said.

“It was a very powerful experience for them as well, so it had many good outcomes from that project.”

He said the community-collected data would be “very important” in addressing homelessness, and the new digital platform, currently under development, would also provide people with updates following their report.

“They’d get feedback to say your person’s been seen,” he said.

“And then even down the track, for… organisations or corporates that would actually like to contribute, they can make a contribution for each report, which would then notify the [reporter] that this particular corporate has contributed to the person that you’ve made a report [on].”

Plans for the more-sophisticated reporting platform, to be followed by an app, were inspired by successful models in New York and London, which have made measurable impacts.

“London has got a policy called No Second Night Out, so if you find somebody who’s homeless, the government’s responsible for trying to get them off the streets immediately so they don’t spend another night on the street,” Kastel said.

“New York actually publishes every day on their website the number of people that have been reported homeless so you can actually see day on day what the state of homelessness is on the streets of New York.

“It creates real transparency, and obviously that drives policy and visibility on the issues of homelessness.”

Kastel said the new platform could be up and running in a matter of months.

Ellie Cooper  |  Journalist |  @ProBonoNews

Ellie Cooper is a journalist covering the social sector.


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One Comment

  • Sarah says:

    Are you guys aware of the great work the Mercy Foundation in North Sydney is doing in this area? They already have a project up and running in a few sites in NSW – including City of Sydney and across Australia. It’s called ‘Registry Week’. Check it out.

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