A rapid response to support people during COVID-19
At the start of the COVID-19 lockdown, we ran a pilot to help people get connected and access support they needed. Through Simon Community’s Get Digital project, we gave 36 people a smartphone with unlimited calls, texts and data. Everyone participating in the pilot was already using our Housing Support service in Edinburgh. They were living in temporary accommodation (e.g. BnBs, and other council provision) and facing the most extreme forms of homelessness.
Access to devices AND personalised support
To help people get online, we also provided one-to-one remote personalised support based around a digital skills framework, delivered by our staff team who are trained in digital inclusion.
After three weeks we asked people how this initiative had changed their lives. We have been amazed at their responses!
Changing lives through digital
The positive impact for people who participated has been overwhelming. Each person who received a device and the accompanying support has moved from a place of digital exclusion towards digital inclusion.
Each person has been able to take multiple steps that have positively benefited their lives – including reducing their isolation, increasing their confidence and making it easier for people to get the support they need. People have been able to connect with family, volunteer, work on their CV, learn languages, continue college work and access their benefits more easily. Importantly, they have been able to do these things independently – which has been really important to them.
We asked participants in the pilot about their experiences of having the smartphone:
- 100% said it positively affected my life
- 84% feel more confident being online
- 97% inspired to learn more
- 97% feel more connected
- 97% found their spare time more enjoyable
- 100% found digital champion support useful
- 100% will continue to use digital
Discovering why ‘digital’ matters so much
Another significant benefit relates to staff perceptions. Support workers who participated in this pilot reported that it has really changed their perceptions around the value of digital inclusion activity. This builds on the digital champion training we’ve been doing with staff over the past 2 years.
In the past, digital has been seen as a ‘nice to have, but not essential’ for people experiencing homelessness. Among some members of staff there was a feeling that there were more pressing issues than digital to focus on – like finding accommodation, applying for jobs or managing benefits.
Through this pilot, we have seen a dramatic shift in our culture. Staff who participated have become extremely positive and enthusiastic about digital – they are realising just how powerful digital inclusion can be.
Digital inclusion is now being seen as a fundamental tool to achieve goals such as accommodation, applying for jobs, managing benefits, connecting with family and achieving greater wellbeing. Digital access and support is delivering huge benefits to the people we support.
- 100% of staff felt the pilot benefited service users
- 86% saw increased communication between staff and service users
A shared understanding that digital access is essential
We need to improve digital participation, and now is the time to do it. Simon Community’s Get Digital programme has been working to improve digital access for a number of years. We are delighted to be seeing significantly increased interest from across the world of homelessness. Digital inclusion is now being recognised as a key component for ending homelessness.
Recently published reports that highlight the priority on digital inclusion:
- Everyone Home – from the Scotland Collective on Homelessness & COVID-19
- All in for Change Report: A report to the which presents 5 calls from the frontline to protect people without a settled home (presented to the Scottish Government’s Homelessness Prevention and Strategy Group)
Let’s get more people connected
If we are serious about ending homelessness in Scotland, we must find ways to include people in the digital landscape.
This pilot has demonstrated multiple concrete benefits to people when they are able to connect online easily and with personalised support. We are now looking for funding so that we can roll out this approach across more of our services and across Scotland. This is a key way in which we can end homelessness and help people recover.