Growing Demand For Food Services From Those Experiencing Homelessness
19 March 2018 at 4:39 pm
Access to food has overtaken housing as the most in-demand service for those experiencing or at risk of homelessness, according to data from a mobile website connecting people in need with housing, meals, support and counselling.
Ask Izzy is an online tool to tackle homelessness, which was created by Infoxchange – in partnership with Google, REA Group and News Corp Australia – to help the high proportion of homeless people across the country who own a smartphone.
Over the past 12 months food has overtaken housing as Ask Izzy’s most in-demand category, with 3.5 times more people searching for food services than at the same time last year.
With a 259 per cent rise in food searches, the category now makes up 26 per cent of all searches on the website, compared to 23 per cent of searches for housing queries.
Infoxchange CEO David Spriggs told Pro Bono News he was not surprised that there was a rise in demand for food services.
“I think it’s in line with what we’re seeing in the community,” Spriggs said.
“It’s really sad that there’s so many members of our community that need access to very basic services and are searching for food on Ask Izzy.
“Over our two year [existence], we’ve had more than 870,000 searches for help. Originally we had a target to help 100,000 people over two years. So it’s great that people are aware of this service [but it’s] sad that there’s that many people in our community in need of help.”
While food searches have risen the most over the past year, many other categories have also grown their average daily demand.
Housing searches have risen by 69 per cent, money help queries rose by 163 per cent and support and counselling searches grew by 119 per cent.
Spriggs said this data was used by Ask Izzy to tailor their service and improve it into the future.
“The statistics that are coming out of Ask Izzy are very much informing our future developments,” he said.
“For example the highest proportion of users that we have accessing Ask Izzy are people fleeing family violence… and the number one contributing factor for men accessing Ask Izzy is around mental health.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are also making up a very large proportion of our user group. So there’s a few projects that we’ve got underway in that space. One is we’ve been working to make Ask Izzy more inclusive for Aboriginal communities and having more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander specific services on Ask Izzy.
“We launched a new version of the user interface a few months ago now, designed to be more inclusive for Aboriginal communities and it’s had the flow-on effect of actually being more inclusive for all of our audiences.”
In line with this focus on catering for needs, Ask Izzy has also been undertaking a project with the NAB Foundation to make the website more responsive to the needs of people fleeing family violence.
Spriggs said it was important to make the social sector and other stakeholders aware of the data, so it could inform policy development and ensure there are enough services catering to in-demand areas.
“What we’re doing in partnership with the sector is working on what we’re calling the open data platform for Ask Izzy,” he said.
“We’re getting a really good picture now of what’s the demand for these various services across the country. And we’d like to make that information available to government at all levels, to service providers and to anybody who’s is interested in that data, so people can better plan and respond from a service perspective with this data that we’re seeing.
“So when you’re seeing an increase in demand for food services, that information is very relevant for local governments and for service providers to see where that demand is and to see whether we’re actually filling that demand or whether there’s enough services in those areas.”
Merryn Auldist is a support worker at Healesville Indigenous Community Services Association (HICSA).
She runs a weekly food bank providing free groceries to people in need, and said it was a common misconception that only people living in extreme poverty needed access to free food.
“You can have a three-bedroom house and a car in the garage and nobody knows that your cupboards are completely empty and you honestly don’t know where your next meal is coming from,” Auldist said.
Spriggs said that technology platforms like Ask Izzy were therefore vital to connect those in need with services and give them choice to select their preferred providers.
“Nobody expects to be homeless. And so to actually know what services are out there and how to find them is extremely difficult,” he said.
“And this is what we’ve heard many times from people with lived experience of homelessness, the experience with Ask Izzy is that they can see what services are available and they’re making the proactive choice to reach out and connect with one of those services, rather than somebody telling them to go to that service or somebody telling them what to do.
“And particularly in the case of people fleeing family violence, we’re seeing that element of empowerment where people are making their own decisions to visit services. We’ve seen it have a huge impact.”