Recently, Trilogy Integrated Resources, LLC introduced an app for the Apple iPhone designed to locate the nearest shelter.
The Network of Care Shelter Finder app was released this fall and is designed to use the GPS capabilities of the iPhone to identify the shelters nearest to a user’s current location. The new app is built to search the Network of Care’s listings of over 3,000 shelters. Network of Care is largest network of community-based Web sites for service members, veterans and their families.
You can search for a shelter by services provided, including traditional shelters, transitional housing programs, permanent affordable housing, and drug/alcohol rehab facilities. There is also the option to narrow search results by age and family categories, making the app more useful.
I think the app is an interesting new development for direct service providers for two reasons. First, it offers an outreach worker an interactive and portable tool to take along on outreach. While iPhones are expensive, wireless devices are increasingly recognized as important tools for outreach. In the 2005 article Taking it to the Streets: Recording Medical Outreach Data on Personal Digital Assistants, Health Care for the Homeless in Houston studied how this type of technology could help improve care on medical care outreach. Their findings suggest that using personal digital assistants (PDAs) can help clinicians to focus on building relationships instead of re-creating documentation during patient encounters. Now, if an outreach worker needs to know which nearby shelter provides a certain service, or is working in an unfamiliar neighborhood, there is an app that can help.
The app could also help save time in training new workers. In a field where burnout and turnover are high, an up-to-date portable electronic listing of local resources could, at least potentially, reduce the time it takes to train new outreach workers.
The Network of Care Shelter Finder iPhone app is one step toward realizing the potential of mobile technology for making life a little bit easier for direct service workers. Of course, it assumes that workers have access to iPhones, which may be a stretch for most agencies. However, there is tremendous potential for interactive mobile technologies to help workers better serve people. A future app could be one that offers up-to-the-moment information about each shelter, with updates on beds available. For now, whether you think the app is helpful or not, one thing is for sure, it is a step in an interesting new direction.
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