Mobile phones help Australia's homeless survive

Research suggests that the rate of smartphone ownership amongst those classified as homeless is higher than that of the general population.
ACCAN — the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network — has released details of a study that looked into the use of telecommunications services amongst the homeless. While the rate of mobile ownership in the general Australian population is estimated at 92 per cent, the rate amongst the homeless was estimated at 95 per cent. The figures also suggested that smartphone use was even higher, with 77 per cent of the homeless surveyed owning a smartphone of some sort, compared to 64 per cent of the general population.
ACCAN’s release quotes University of Sydney researcher Dr Justine Humphry as saying that “It’s essential to be connected when experiencing, or at risk of, homelessness. Mobile phones help people survive and stay safe in situations of heightened risk. Mobile phones also play a critical role in helping people move out of homelessness and gain financial stability.”
I’ve got to admit I totally agree with that, even though I could see those figures being used by certain elements of the media as a stick to beat the homeless with, under a typical “why do these people have phones?” kind of rhetoric.
Frankly, if you’re dealing with the issues inherent in being homeless (for whatever reason), the security of communications, be it to emergency services or for seeking shelter or employment is a small but obviously vital bit of comfort.
According to the survey results (bearing in mind, as always, that commissioned surveys are often for a specific role, and they can only suggest matters, not outright prove them), 47 per cent of those surveyed use the Internet to look for work. 41 per cent of those surveyed stated that their handset was “a gift, second-hand, stolen or borrowed.”
I’m not surprised that 83 per cent are on pre-paid mobile plans; indeed I would have thought it would be higher. 57 per cent reported difficulties in funding their mobile usage, and 32 per cent “are often disconnected because they can’t charge their phone, lack phone credit or lose their phone.”
The research release quotes ACCAN CEO Teresa Corbin highlighting the affordability issue particularly. “Affordability is a big concern for our homeless population and low-income consumers. Telcos need to make sure they go through all the checks and balances to ensure everyone is on the right plan so that vulnerable consumers don’t end up in debt and chased by debt collectors.”
Image: Vcossa Photos

2 thought on “Mobile phones help Australia's homeless survive”

  1. Narelle Clark

    Thank you for covering this vital issue! One correction: this wasn’t commissioned research but a grant to a researcher under a competitive scheme. The size of the grant partly determines the extent to which the project can go. It certainly has identified some important items and has made a series of recommendations to telcos as well as government and social services providers. One example of which is to improve access to phone and internet facilities. See:

    1. Alex Kidman Post author

      Hi Narelle,
      Not sure I get your distinction there; the research was commissioned (under a grant, that’s fine), and that’s pretty much all I meant by “commissioned research”. There’s a limit to how far one can extrapolate a sample, and so on…


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