Google supports ‘transformative’ smartphone app for homeless young people

The charity Centrepoint hopes its new app will contribute to better leaving care services for vulnerable young people

iPad
Photo: Image Broker/REX

These days there are apps for predicting the weather, apps for counting calories and apps that count the days until Christmas (it’s 116). Now, a new app from the charity Centrepoint is expected to transform how social care services support young people.

After being awarded £500,000 from the Google Impact challenge, Centrepoint, which works with homeless young people, is developing an app that will help establish which of its interventions is most effective.

Nicholas Connolly, head of corporate development at Centrepoint, believes the new app “has the potential to be transformative” and hopes it can become a blueprint for how other services develop social care.

“The app is going to be an alumni club,” Connolly explained. “We’re trying to create a social network for homeless young people and ex-homeless young people so they can keep in contact. In that way we will be able to keep an on-going dialogue with them so we will be able to find out how they are doing and what interventions have been successful.”

A fifth of young people who have used Centrepoint in the last year have been care leavers, the charity reveals. Chris Gerrard, senior media and PR officer, hopes the app will contribute to a better leaving care service for them.

“There’s a strong link between care leavers and homelessness and although all the finer details of the project need to be mapped out, I’m confident that group will be one of the focuses,” Gerrard says.

“Young people often struggle to adapt to independence once they no longer receive support at 21; but the app could potentially highlight the challenges young people are facing, the driving factors and suggest the solutions that are and aren’t working.”

The app will mean young people who enter Centrepoint services can share their experiences during, and most importantly in the medium to long-term after they leave, so they can measure the success of the interventions and use that to improve services. The data collected will be shared with relevant organisations, including social services.

Connolly hopes the app will help young people requiring homelessness services, and make it easier for local authorities and other charities to decide which services or interventions to implement. “This kind of data has never been kept and analysed – I think in the whole of welfare, but certainly in youth homelessness,” he said.

Collecting reflective and on-going data about what does and doesn’t work for young people could help charities and local authorities to provide better interventions in the future.

“When a young person first comes to Centrepoint they think their problems are X, Y and Z. Halfway through their time at Centrepoint they think it’s A, B and C. When they leave and two years down the line they have a job and they are a bit more stable they will probably realise that actually it was G. That journey, that self-realisation will be really helpful to map because that helps us communicate with different young people as they come along,” said Connolly.

The Google funding came after the search engine recognised the app’s potential and shortlisted it for the Impact Challenge. There it was also recognised by the public who voted it one of the four winners of the challenge, netting the charity £500,000.

But it’s not just about the app, Connolly explains. “It’s about marrying the future with knowledge of what happens when people leave and the huge amount of data we can collect… We can understand causes, solutions, existing interventions and possible outcomes”.

The app will certainly help though, even if it doesn’t tell you how many days there are until Christmas (it’s still 116).

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