App Provides Access to Homeless Services Info for Young People

Finding a bed for the night or a nice hot meal in the winter just got easier for some homeless youth and young adults in and around the Greater Boston area.

Bridge Over Troubled Waters, an agency dedicated to homeless, runaway and at-risk youth, launched a downloadable app for smartphones with up-to-date schedules and contact information for service providers in the region.

The phone application is free to all users and is being advertised in shelters throughout the city, according to the agency’s mobile medical van coordinator, Jessie Morton.

“In my experience a very large percent of youth have phones, it’s pretty common for someone to have a phone or access to a phone,” Morton said. “One of the nice things about the app is while we’re providing resource information for immediate needs and services we are also able to do the same for more long-term care, like detox and mental health, so with the app you can sort of get both sides of the coin.”

Providing youth with information on access to resources is not new to the agency, according to Morton. She and her team have been providing young adults with a paper-based pocket sized list of resources since 2013.

As meal times changed and shelters closed, Morton said the brochures they were handing out did not reflect these changes.

Asking homeless youth to carry around a pocket brochure was also not ideal since there are only so many services that you can list on paper.

“I found people weren’t taking them or we would hand them out and we would find them on the ground or left behind,” Morton said. “With the app it allows us the ability to update things in real time so users can get information immediately rather than seeing a time for a meal that no longer exists.”

In addition to basic necessities such as food and shelter, the application also lists safe sex support, help after domestic violence, HIV/STD testing places and resources to find a job.

The application, created through a partnership with Atlantis Technology and with funding from Innovo Benefits Group and Liberty Mutual Insurance, has received 250 downloads since its launch in late October.

Bridge Over Troubled Waters serves 2,000 young people and young adults per year and is hoping to get as many downloads as the app becomes better known throughout shelters and service providers in the city.

Melissa Cording, the director of development at Bridge Over Troubled Waters, said the agency isn’t entirely done with the paper survival guides, which will still be available during this transitional period to the app.

“We’ve actually been providing this information in paper for years,” she said. “We know a lot of the youth we serve have phones or access to phones or access to the internet so the app is very helpful for them to have.”

Since the launch of the app Morton said she has gotten positive feedback and is hoping to add more services to the app as time goes by.

“A Boston police officer said she was going to tell her officers to use it to access resource information,” Morton said. “St. Francis House and other service providers have started using it too. And when our youth find out that we have an app they think it’s kind of cool so they have slowly started using it.”

If you are a service provider who would like your organization to appear on the app, please contact Jessie Morton, coordinator of in-house medical and dental clinics and coordinator of the mobile medical van for Bridge Over Troubled Waters.

Jordan Frias

Jordan Frias is an editorial assistant at Boston Herald and a contributor of Spare Change News. He is vice president of the New England Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and a graduate of Northeastern University's School of Journalism.