Work starts on new nationwide app to ‘end rough sleeping’

Supplier retained for £1m project to build system that government hopes will be more widely used than existing tools

Credit: Alexas Fotos/Pixabay

Government has started work on a new nationwide digital service through which citizens can alert local support services providers of rough sleepers in their area.

The project – led by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities – is intended to support the cross-government Ending Rough Sleeping for Good Strategy published by the department nine months ago.

To support the development of the tech tool, DLUHC last month signed an initial two-year agreement with Home Connections – a non-profit software provider focused on social housing that works with local authorities (LAs) and housing associations around the country.

The government’s aim is to create a service to be used across England and Wales to provide “an easy-to-use, online platform for members of the public to use to make an alert to the relevant outreach team about someone they see sleeping rough”, according to the terms of the contract.

“The service should provide helpful information to local outreach workers – such as location details and description of the person sleeping rough – that will enable them to quickly find individuals in their area who are sleeping rough,” the document added. “The service should also enable LAs to engage with the public on local rough sleeping support by providing feedback to users on the outcome of their alert and wider information about what rough sleeping support is being provided in their area.”

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The service is intended to replace the existing StreetLink platform which, while largely government-funded, operates as an independent non-profit entity run by two specialist charities: Homeless Link; and St Mungo’s.

StreetLink has been in operation since 2012 and has almost 300,000 registered users, who make a cumulative total of about 11,250 alerts each quarter.

The DLUHC expects the new platform to encompass a website and a dedicated mobile app but is open to “proposals that can demonstrate a web app that is enabled for mobile use or can easily be integrated with mobile enabled interfaces”.

Whichever option it proceeds with, the department hopes that the finished product will represent an improvement on existing services by delivering “a greater user-friendly service experience that can provide… detailed, accurate information from alerts to LA and outreach contacts so staff can find individuals sleeping rough as quickly as possible”. In developing the service, Home Connections will be expected to engage with councils and work to “build their requirements into the platform”.

Via communications campaigns, supported by its chosen supplier, government also hopes to increase awareness and usage of the platform, compared with StreetLink. 

Once it is up and running, DLUHC also hopes the new service will enable greater collection and analysis of data.

“We are defining success as a popularly used platform – both in numbers of users and ease of use – that provides helpful information to outreach workers to find rough sleepers,” the contract said. “Our key quantitative metrics in this will be: the number of people visiting the platform and using the service to make alerts; [and] the percentage of alerts made that result in someone sleeping rough being found by an outreach worker. Our key qualitative metrics will be: feedback from the public on the platform, including how it has affected their understanding of rough sleeping; [and] feedback from LAs on the usefulness of the alerts that come through the system.”

The deal is expected to be worth about £850,000 over its initial 24-month term, and can be extended by two further years at the DLUHC’s discretion.

Sam Trendall

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