“I thought of all the times this could have been an invaluable tool for those days when I needed support or something to eat,” said one former homeless youth who helped create Youth Matters Philly.
Youth Matters Philly, an app to help youth find local resources like shelters and food banks was officially launched Monday, May 1, during a press conference with city officials and those involved in the development of the app, including staffers at the Juvenile Law Center, faculty and students from University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice and Hack4Impact.
Homeless youth are disproportionately affected by employment and emotional/health issues. Pregnancy. Dating violence. Unemployment. Medical care.
They are also at risk for poor mental health and underutilization of services. Research suggests that linking care with youth services would improve their continuity of care.
Community services for young people exist in our community. That's not the problem. That's not the problem for a young person who is without a permanent support home.
The problems are the barriers created by the decision-makers and services providers that make it dysfunctional for young people access help in a streamlined and coordinated way. And long-term.
In other words, trying to get food, shelter, laundry, counseling and a tutor as a homeless youth is like being thrown in standing tube. Adults throw in pages of community services from the top.
And turn on the whirlwind. While they stand their trying to grab specific pages for their specific needs.
That's asinine. That's dysfunctional.
And let's be honest. Unstable young people are turned off by our traditional approaches of service interventions. Which is why many of them prefer to stay "invisible".
Smartphone apps helps young people connect themselves to services. In a way that makes sense for them.
Their lifestyle. Their timing. Their terms.
Apps have many capabilities, including tracking health status and collecting data. Apps also help with scheduling and patient interaction with providers.
Electronic case management has been proven to reach homeless youth, leading to long-term care and improved health (Electronic case management with homeless youth. Eval Program Plann. 2015 Jun;50:36–42).
Here are 4 fundamental guiding principles for embracing technology to assist our homeless youth:
1. Accessing vital services is an important issue that youth face.
2. Health services are using technology.
3. Youth are using mobile phones and smartphones to access services (Fast Company & Inc; 2012. Mar 21, [2016-06-28])
4. We have an opportunity to bridge this gap and increase service utilization.
Philladelphia gets it. Our approaches must be youth-centered. Trauma-informed. And results-oriented.
Smartphone apps does all three. And gets it done.
Way to go, Philly. Getting it done for our young people.