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Thursday, 04 August 2022 16:37

Homelessness Week: Technology and innovation is useless without collaboration

By Rabbi Mendel Kastel
Rabbi Mendel Kastel, CEO, Jewish House Rabbi Mendel Kastel, CEO, Jewish House

GUEST OPINION: As we see technology solving a myriad of issues facing society, we are reminded of the complex nature of homelessness during Homelessness Week.

This year’s theme is ‘We need a plan’ which is evident as we raise awareness for the 116,000 Australians who are homeless at any given night. What we do know, is the best ideas can only be executed if there are two elements – a realistic plan, and collaboration between those who can bring that plan to life. We see this in every area of the tech sphere, from solving complex business problems to e-commerce and SaaS opportunities, technology and innovation drives innovation which can then see its potential when given the chance to succeed. When it comes to the tech sector, that potential is often provided in the form of VC funds and Joint ventures that drive capital. When it comes to issues impacting the core of society - the key driver becomes collaboration.

At Jewish House, we work with industry experts and best practice to try to understand how technology can help solve the issue of homelessness. We have executed two key initiatives, our MEND app, and our Couch Surfers platform. The MEND app is a way to equip the community with the opportunity to help those who are homeless by taking action – and not just walking by. Since its 2019 launch, MEND has seen hundreds of cases lodged that have connected those in need with services that can help them. Our Couch Surfers Platform connects couch-surfers and their hosts with support services and is available in 109 languages – ensuring that it provides access and support for all. The technology being used allows us to use data and innovation as the foundation for our collaborative efforts in helping those in Australia struggling with homelessness. Equally important, it is vital that we continue to learn from others who are also solving the complex issue of Homelessness. We are witnessing a rise of innovation coming out of Silicon Valley and local Australian Tech efforts. An example is Cisco’s USD$50million investment in Santa Clara County. One of their key findings of this initiative found that investment and technology is important, but public-private partnerships are key.

While the Australian Government provides critical services and funding for many of trying to solve these deeply engrained social issues, these efforts will be plagued with barriers if there is no collaboration across key services and departments at both a state and federal level. At Jewish House, we work to keep over 1,000 people off the streets each year, and as a crisis centre work across a number of social sectors and we know we can only be effective when collaboration occurs. Transparency across how data is used, collected and understood to determine funding, resourcing and efforts are needed to solve the issue of Homelessness. This Homelessness week, we encourage all to continue to use technology to innovate and drive solutions but to also prioritising collaboration so that we can see plans successfully executed changing the lives of many Australians who experience homelessness.

You can visit our Couch Surfing Platform for information about how we are MEND-ing our community, connecting couch surfers and hosts with services to reduce the risk of chronic street homelessness: https://couchsurfer.org.au/

About Rabbi Mendel Kastel

Rabbi joined Jewish House as CEO at the beginning of 2008. He has been providing rabbinic expertise to the Sydney community for almost 30 years, is a rabbinic fellow of the Great Synagogue, Board member of NCOSS and Ending Street Homelessness, the Jewish Chaplin of the NSW Police Force, and is a commissioner on the National Mental Health Commission. His deep community and social welfare experience, passion for the cause and collaborative approach has seen Jewish House grow and continue to develop. Both he and Jewish House are well recognised for applying innovative best practices to the provision of expert crisis services in the Sydney community.

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