Each year, 1.7 million youth experience homelessness in America, sleeping on streets, in parks, shelters and in temporary situations with friends and family. These young people face many health challenges, and many have emotional and mental health problems, leaving home because of trauma, abuse or dysfunction in the home. Homeless and unstably housed youth are at significantly higher risk of substance abuse, unintended pregnancy, contracting STIs and HIV, and more adverse health outcomes. Most of these young people do not have a regular health care provider and typically seek health care in only the most critical of situations–often using Emergency Room services. There are numerous barriers preventing these youth from accessing health services, among them not knowing about available service providers, poor treatment from providers, and transportation.
Linking homeless youth with life services
YTH StreetConnect is a mobile app that assists homeless and unstably housed young people to locate, access and rate vital services and resources, including free and low-cost health care, food, clothing and education. Described by young people as, “Google and Yelp combined,” YTH StreetConnect offers its users a comprehensive database of life services in their immediate area, complete with an interactive map, user-submitted ratings and reviews, eligibility and fee requirements (if any), as well as a range of hotlines and informational resources, weekly health tips via text, and a forum for sharing advice and experiences. The app can easily be accessed with only a WiFi connection–no cellular plan is required.
StreetConnect PRO, an independent but complementary app to YTH StreetConnect for youth, is a tablet-based app for health and service providers who work with homeless and unstably housed youth. It includes the service and resource locator featured in the youth module, assisting providers in referring their clients to additional services. As well as a questionnaire to gather anonymous health data about homeless and unstably housed youth, StreetConnect PRO also offers providers an array of best practices and resources for working with this vulnerable population.
How youth shaped StreetConnect
The group of unstably housed young people who tested YTH StreetConnect found the app useful, were excited for its future rollout and eager to download it. “The whole app overall, it’s going to be helpful. It will help a lot of people,” noted one youth after testing the prototype. Many suggestions from the youth were incorporated into the final design. Providers testing StreetConnect PRO expressed that they did not currently have access to anything like the app and that they would use it as a key tool in their work with homeless youth. They enjoyed the app’s look and feel and were looking forward to being able to use it.