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Friday, September 24, 2021

Tackling Homelessness with the Help of Technology

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The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed many of us to a series of unpredictability and challenges.

People are losing their jobs, suffering from loss of income, facing mental health issues.

And because of the pandemic, more people and their families are becoming homeless as many have lost their source of income during the lockdown period.

Even before the pandemic, homelessness has always been a complex global issue to tackle and Sarawak is no exception to this problem.

Homelessness may be caused by several factors including:

  • unemployment
  • poor and low incomes
  • old age without family members
  • domestic abuse
  • addiction
  • depression
  • personal trauma
  • privatisation of civic services
  • lack of affordable housing or transportation
  • unplanned and rapid urbanisation
One of the biggest contributor to homelessness is unemployment (Image source: Pixabay)

The Minister of Welfare, Community Wellbeing, Women, Family and Childhood Development, YB Dato Sri Hajah Fatimah Abdullah disclosed during the State Legislative Assembly (DUN) in November 2020 that Miri tops the list of homeless by division and district in Sarawak with 42 out of 145 homeless people recorded in 15 districts.

The statistic came when the State government came to the rescue of 145 homeless people during the movement control order (MCO) from 18th March to 31st May.

Homelessness has been a serious issue for years and continues to grow every year.

In 2009, at the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe Conference of European Statisticians (CES), the Group of Experts on Population and Housing Censuses grouped homelessness into two broad groups:

  • Primary homelessness (or rooflessness): includes persons living in the streets without a shelter that would fall within the scope of living quarters;
  • Secondary homelessness. include persons with no place of usual residence who move frequently between various types of accommodations

Homelessness is a complex and intractable problem, and which is why countries around the world is increasingly turning to technology for help. 

Fortunately, with the advent of modern technology, there is so much that can be done to curb the homelessness crisis. 

With the advent of modern technology, so much that can be done to curb homelessness crisis (Image source: Pixabay)

Technology has solved everything and now it can be leveraged to address the root causes of homelessness.  

These days, we all know that technology is used to provide efficient and better service delivery and this also includes addressing homelessness issue.

For people experiencing homelessness, technology can help create a more inclusive environment.

Homeless people and their families would often need to seek support and services across multiple agencies.

In Sarawak for instance, the issue of homelessness includes the support from the Welfare Department to provide aids and assistance, the Women’s Department to help domestic violence victims and perhaps the Ministry of Local Government and Housing to provide affordable housing to people affected with homeless issue.

Thus, it only makes sense to have a connected database so that their record should be easily shared across networks to various agencies and service providers.

By sharing the information across the network of care providers and other stakeholders, this would ultimately reduce the number of times community members have to tell hard stories in order to access services and support.

A comprehensive and connected information system on homelessness should be shared across various agencies and service providers to improve people’s lives and advocate for better policies and more affordable housing (Image source: Pixabay)

It is also by unifying the fragmented network of systems, programs, and software into one comprehensive platform that the data can be used to improve people’s lives, through advocacy for better policies and more affordable housing, and strong interventions that help people move out of poverty.

By creating an environment in which providers can see a tenant’s full history at a glance, they are able to navigate problematic situations and bypass issues that would otherwise escalate.

Apart from a comprehensive information system, technological inventions can also be used to tackle the issue of homelessness in Sarawak.

For instance, in June 2014, Lava Mae, a San Francisco-based non-profit offering mobile showers and sanitation to people experiencing homelessness.

It is also noted that the goal isn’t just cleanliness — it’s to provide dignity and ‘radical hospitality’.

Another example of technological invention to help homelessness is the WeatherHYDE tent.

WeatherHYDE is a reversible tent created by billionBricks, a nonprofit working with homeless and displaced communities in South and Southeast Asia.

It protects homeless populations and impoverished communities with affordable shelter, with one side keeping out cold temperatures, and the other side lined with reflective panels to keep out extreme heat. 

Another simple yet brilliant invention to tackle homeless is through the creation of apps that homeless people to safely ask for items they need, and provides a way for people in their community to donate directly.

The WeCount apps is an example that provides this kind of service where the donation of goods may include outdoor gear, home goods, children’s needs and clothing.

YB Dato Sri Fatimah announced that her ministry plans to establish a transit place for the homeless namely the Homeless Transit Place (TTG) is in Sibu and the Borneo Best Support Centre (BBSC) in Kuching.

It was noted that BBSC in Kuching will be an integrated community support facility that serves not only as a transit shelter for the homeless but also a shelter and training centre for women affected by social issues, as well as a soup kitchen and community food bank.

Perhaps it is at these centres where the technological inventions can be introduced and used.

Technological inventions such as the mobile showers and sanitation by Lava Mae can also be used to tackle the issue of homelessness not only in Sarawak, but everywhere across the globe (Image source: Lava Mae)

These kinds of inventions should also be made available and accessible everywhere so that the homeless can have access to basic facilities such as water, shower and shelter.

Technology includes gadgets, apps and inventions are great solutions to address homelessness but it may not provide permanent solution to the problem.

To tackle homelessness, it is important to address the root of the issue which may include poverty, lack of affordable housing and unemployment, whereby affordable housing and policy change are the most critical solutions to the homelessness crisis.

However, in the meantime, innovations can offer much-needed support to those goals by equipping governments and service providers in the sector with the right tools and data to help them serve their constituents.

Homelessness might appear to be a complicated issue but most importantly, it is without efforts and empathy to start tackling it, more people will unfortunately suffer from homelessness.

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