Lead Organization: Centre de Santé Communautaire du Grand Sudbury (CSCGS)
Program Name: Homelessness Network Mobile Phone Initiative
Area of Care: Social services case management, primary care and mental health and addictions.
Healthcare Partners: The following agencies form the collaborative partnership called The Homelessness Network: Association des jeunes de la rue, Centre de santé communautaire du Grand Sudbury, Elizabeth Fry Society of Northeastern Ontario , John Howard Society of Sudbury, Sudbury Action Centre for Youth, N’Swakamok Friendship Centre
Vendor: Telus Mobility
The COVID-19 pandemic has reduced in-person services and in some cases clients’ lack of access to technology has affected their ability to access health, housing and social services. Many clients do not have the means to purchase a phone and do not meet the application criteria to obtain data plans. Lack of access to technology will be an ongoing issue as technology becomes a more prominent part of communications and service delivery. The goal of the project is to provide cell phones to people who are homeless or at-risk of homelessness to increase access to health, housing and social services through virtual communication ensuring that this population has equitable access to healthcare services within their community
Housing First is an evidence-based practice that has a recovery-oriented approach which centers on moving people quickly to permanent housing and then providing them with supports and services as needed. All programs within the homelessness serving sector work from a Housing First approach.
The goal of the project is to provide cell phones to people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness to increase access to health, housing and social services supports bringing the care to where they are at through virtual communication. It will accommodate social distancing throughout COVID-19 and provide an opportunity to evaluate the impact of technology in improving outcomes of the Housing First Program.
Core Project Objectives:
- To provide 25 recipients with the technology needed to access programs, services and online supports for the homeless or at-risk population living within the City of Greater Sudbury
- To support recipients in accessing programs and services virtually to accommodate social distancing throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and new virtual models of care
- To evaluate the impact of technology in improving outcomes of the Housing First program
The City of Greater Sudbury secured mobile phones with free 6-month data plans through Telus Mobility for Good COVID-19 Emergency Response program. Telus’ generous program donated over 14,000 devices and plans valued at $16.2M across Canada.
25 phones were gifted to CSCGS, the lead agency of the Homelessness Network, whom the City of Greater Sudbury works closely with to support this vulnerable population. Leading the coordination of the project, CSCGS worked with their six partner organizations to distribute the phones by:
- establishing eligibility criteria for clients to receive gifted phones grounded in the Housing First program;
- acting as a central distribution hub working with Case Managers to identify eligible clients, eliminating potential duplication as some clients receive services from multiple partners;
- identifying helpful contacts, apps & helplines to load onto the phones
- establishing equipment agreement forms for formal transfer of the gifted phones;
- training Case Managers on the use of virtual care so they could leverage the phones to connect with their clients and participate in joint calls with their clients and other health care providers;
- establishing user guides;
- establishing evaluation metrics in conjunction with the City of Greater Sudbury.
Technology Type: Samsung A50 smartphones and 6-month $0 data plans from Telus
Clients who received the gifted cell phones provided the following feedback to their Case Managers:
- Had the ability to speak to a friend at any time which helped cope during COVID;
- Clients were able to use the phones to connect to psychiatrists, nurse practitioners, Public Health for COVID tests and immunizations and dentists;
- A client was able to use it to call 911 to save a friend’s life after a drug overdose;
- A client used it to contact both Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) and their landlord to correct rent payment issues on their own without Case Management intervention which they would have needed without it;
- A number of clients reported being able to reconnect with family members and some community services;
- Clients shared they felt more connected and less isolated when they were feeling down.
In all cases, clients reported feeling safer, more connected and better equipped to handle life, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Client Case Mangers provided the following insights on the benefits they experienced by being able to gift clients a cell phone:
- Clinicians find it significantly easier to contact/locate clients;
- A psychiatrist was secured to provide virtual clinics twice a month for clients and support was also extended to the Case Managers to assist them in supporting their clients;
- Clients that never reached out to the Case Managers before now call to communicate on a regular basis;
- Increased clients’ knowledge of tasks that can be completed using a phone and how to use technology to connect with social supports, such as addictions support and food security;
- One client was able to make all HIV appointments because of the phone and was able to check in with their nurse practitioner;
- Clients used the phone to do housing searches and had the benefit of having a phone number to leave for call backs;
- Previously clients needed to come to the Case Manager’s office whenever needing to contact an ODSP worker for medical needs or otherwise. They now independently use the cell phone;
- Clients commented they were much more motivated to finding housing as they didn’t have to walk to the office to do it.
Overall, Case Managers felt phones increased participants’ self-agency, resiliency, and independence.
Change Required to Support the Model
Case Manager had to learn how to use the phone as a virtual tool and integrate it as a tool into their service delivery to support clients connecting to health and social services.
- Improve clients’ housing stability over the 6-month period while having access to the phone.
- Improve clients’ income stability over the 6-month period with the phone.
- Improve clients’ access to health supports over the 6-month period with the phone.
- Improve the clients’ social connections after 6-months with access to the phone.
- Improve the clients’ comfort level with technology after 6 months using the phone, and to determine what the client used the phone for during the 6-months compared to what they planned at baseline.