Switched On: Digital Inclusion is a new project that provides women and non-binary people experiencing homelessness and family violence with access to a safe, child-friendly computer room. Here they can freely use technology with the guidance of our case workers.
There is an increasing expectation that everyone in the community has the skills and resources to access technology. This expectation, however, presents significant barriers for women and non-binary people experiencing homelessness who may not have a safe space to use technology or the skills to carry out tasks online.
‘We are responding to the need highlighted through the pandemic that many women do not have access to digital technologies at home, and many lack the confidence and skills to navigate the digital space,’ says Juno CEO Jade Blakkarly.
Managing Centrelink and Medicare claims, applying for work, or accessing a short TAFE course, for example, are now almost exclusively done online. Living in poverty means many people experiencing homelessness cannot afford a computer or tablet device, let alone the costs of data to carry out these tasks.
In addition to poverty, women and non-binary people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds face additional literacy barriers, while a number of older women experiencing homelessness lack the skills and confidence to engage with online platforms.
Juno CEO, Jade Blakkarly, explained how Switched On will provide some of the community’s most vulnerable members with much-needed reliable and safe access to technology.
Our clients have identified the barriers to accessing services and managing the new expectations that meetings, appointments or completing forms now happen online. This expectation wrongly assumes that everyone has equal digital access and literacy.
Although public computers are now available at local libraries, this service falls short of meeting the additional needs of women experiencing homelessness for a few reasons.
‘While there are places to use computers, some women do not feel safe or feel stigmatised in public spaces. They might also be caring for children or find it difficult to get someone to show them how to use the equipment or navigate sites,’ says Jade.
Many women and non-binary people who have left violent relationships are also wary of using public spaces where their ex-partner or associates may see them.
For women with younger children, public libraries are not child-friendly enough to enable them to sit and undertake an online task for any significant length of time.
Juno’s child-friendly computer room is open for clients at any time during business hours, with one of our case managers available to support anyone who needs one-to-one assistance for up to five hours each week.
Women can come and use the space, with or without kids, and not feel stressed about their privacy or safety. It is not only having access to technology and safety but also a space where case managers can engage in coaching and capacity building with those who attend. – Senior Practitioner, Pai.
The room consists of four computers, accessories and a printer, to be used by up to the 270 women in our service each year. There is also access to a play area, toys, and books for the children in our service.
The Mercy Foundation has generously funded this project.