Monday, 15 July 2013 15:35

Study to look at mobile phone use by the homeless

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A study to be undertaken next month by the University of Sydney is expected to provide valuable insights into the uses of mobile technology by homeless women and children, and young people, two of the fastest-growing homeless groups in Australia.

Results from the study, to be conducted by University of Sydney lecturer in Digital Cultures, Dr Justine Humphry, is aimed at influencing how government departments – increasingly using apps and other digital channels – stay in touch with “vulnerable and difficult-to-pinpoint groups of people” which together make up two-thirds of Australia’s homeless population.

Dr Humphry told a workshop at the University of Melbourne today that family breakdowns force many women to flee their homes to keep themselves and their children safe. She said they “couch surf”, and move between refuges and make up a large proportion of the total homeless but are often under-counted.

"These groups of consumers have unique patterns of ownership and use of mobile devices.

“My research will ask how and in what contexts mobile phones and mobile internet services are currently being used by these groups. This will help to build evidence to develop better and more appropriate policies and advocate on their behalf.”

“Addressing such significant questions will uncover the communication needs of people who are vulnerable to social exclusion and isolation.”

Dr Humphry explained: “For some social groups, mobile communication does not simply complement, add to or replace existing communication services. For some, it may be their only form of communication and social connection. And now many government departments are communicating their services exclusively via apps and other digital channels."

Dr Humphry cited an ABS report showing Australia’s homeless population was currently estimated to be 105,237, up from 89,728 in 2006, with 60% of people experiencing homelessness in Australia under 35 and 26% families with children.

Dr Humphry’s project will begin next month, with between 50 and 100 homeless families and young people in New South Wales and Victoria to be surveyed. The survey will address issues of access, affordability and use.

Dr Humphry noted that the Federal Government recently released a statement that government agencies will use mobile technology to deliver services under a new Australian Public Service Mobile Roadmap (http://agimo.gov.au/policy-guides-procurement/mobile/).

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham is a co-founder of iTWire and a 35-year veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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