New app offers instant help to Scots facing homelessness

A digital app developed in Scotland would offer immediate assistance to those who find themselves homeless. Picture: John Devlin
A digital app developed in Scotland would offer immediate assistance to those who find themselves homeless. Picture: John Devlin
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A digital app developed in Scotland aims to ­provide immediate help for ­people in crisis and facing homelessness.

The mobile friendly I Need Help button – launched this week to mark World Homelessness Day – is a ­geo-positioning enabled tool which sends people to their nearest help point, such as their local authority housing/homelessness support team or third sector help.

It takes inspiration from an ­Australian service called Ask Izzy, which took 100,000 queries in its first seven months after going live.

I Need Help has been developed by housing charity Shelter Scotland and follows a weekend-long Hackathon event last year which saw the idea of the help button win top spot.

Funding was then secured from Comic Relief to enable its development, testing and rollout. The ­button now features prominently on the charity’s homepage.

Conrad Rossouw, digital manager at Shelter Scotland, said: “We know that for some of the people who make the more than 800,000 unique web visits a year to our online advice ­pages, they are in a state of deep ­distress and need help right there and then – which isn’t always immediately available. This tool will get them to the right information they need as quickly as ­possible – for example the address and phone number for their local council’s homelessness service.”

The button asks targeted questions that lead the user to the exact ­information they need based on their current location.

It has been designed using open-source technology, meaning it can be adapted by other third sector organisations to offer their service users appropriate and timely support or information.

Mr Rossouw added: “By making I Need Help an open-source tool, it means other organisations are free to adapt and use its features to design tools that can help their clients.

“If needed, we can help them do that.”

The I Need Help button was developed and tested in Scotland and will be shared with Shelter in England and Wales.

Last month, Shelter Scotland warned that homelessness rates could increase as growing ­numbers of Scots are struggling to pay a month’s rent in advance when ­moving to a new property as a result of welfare reforms.

The charity calls for housing ­associations “to be as flexible as ­possible” with tenants over payment of the first month’s rent and for the Scottish ­Government to increase the level of support available.

The average housing ­association month’s rent in advance for a one bed home is just over £255.

With the extension of the local housing authority cap to the social sector, charities warned that this may prove problematic for younger ­people only eligible for the shared room rate.