Digital can play a surprising role in how we approach our daily work. In this blog, we hear from Hannah, of Streetwork’s Street Team, on how digital has transformed the way the team outreaches to people experiencing rough sleeping!
By Hannah Robertson-Newman
As an outreach worker, I am used to the physical aspects of the job: the walking around Edinburgh in all weathers, looking for people experiencing rough sleeping to try and help them access accommodation. When it comes to technology, however, my digital skills are not the best. When someone expects me to fill out a spreadsheet, my first reaction is to hide in the backroom!
Because I spend my days mapping Edinburgh and trudging about the underbelly of the city, I am familiar with most rough sleeping spots, squats, and the side of this city that most people don’t experience. When deciding on a spot to rough sleep, there are many things you need to consider: is it safe? Is it dry? Any protection from the elements? Will you be moved on at some god-awful hour when you have just managed to close your eyes? This leads to rough sleeping sites springing up in hidden nooks and crannies all over Edinburgh.
One day while I was on outreach, I received a call from a colleague asking if I knew where a specific rough sleeping site was – she was looking for someone who might be staying there to offer accommodation. I did know where it was, but to describe this very hidden spot was a task. I found myself saying, ‘so you go down the path a wee bit, then turn right at the thing, then look for the other thing, and it’s behind there…’. My colleague just went silent, ‘…yeah that’s not helpful Hannah!’ She was right, this was not helpful! There needed to be a much quicker and easier way for me and my team to share information about hidden rough sleeping spots around Edinburgh.
So I clenched my teeth and decided to get digital with it…. Turns out it was surprisingly easy. Because we already use G Suite in the organisation, it was really a no-brainer to see how Google Maps could help with our problem. This was how our Rough Sleeper Map was created. I used Google Maps to plot rough sleeping sites in Edinburgh, which I then colour coded to identify the difference between bedding down ( sleeping out in the open), tents and squats. Through trial and error, and with a bit of help from our Digital Champions at Streetwork, I also managed to figure out how to download the map onto a work phone, so that we could update the map live and attach photos while we are out and about!
Gone are the days of ‘it’s down there and behind the thing’. Now a member of our team can easily go on the map on their phone and see for themselves in real-time exactly where a rough sleeping spot is. This creates a current picture of what rough sleeping in Edinburgh looks like on a day to day basis, and it means our outreach team can act accordingly. This has brought the Street Team into the digital world, and now I no longer hide from the dreaded spreadsheet! I realise that digital processes can enhance the amazing work that we do.
Hannah’s experience is just one of the many examples of how digital technology can help break down barriers to exiting homelessness. Get Digital Scotland is a digital inclusion programme that not only aims to increase the digital skills and access for people being affected by homelessness, but also the staff who are supporting them. Through the Get Digital programme, frontline staff like Hannah develop their own digital skills, so that they can access the opportunities and possibilities that technology brings to their work – placing them in an ideal position to pass their new skills on to the people they are supporting!
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