Foundation uses special website to engage young, homeless sofa hoppers

This information provided by Smart Cities Council Compassionate Cities.
Wed, 2017-02-22 11:45 -- Compassionate C...

The German Off Road Kids foundation has been helping homeless youth in Germany since 1994. That's quite a track record. Today it has branches in Berlin, Cologne, Dortmund and Hamburg – all working to help street kids see a way out and provide tools to make it happen. The piece below highlights a particularly hard-to-reach homeless population and how Off Road Kids is making inroads. It's very inspiring and very smart. – Philip Bane

Like so many countries, Germany struggles to help hundreds of thousands of people living on the streets and in shelters. But according to a Deutsche Welle (DW) report, experts believe there may be as many as 20,000 young adults between the ages of 18 and 23 who don't have a permanent home, aren't on the streets and aren't registered by German authorities.

The Off Roads Kids foundation calls them "sofa hoppers" – homeless young adults who may have cut ties with family, with school, with authorities who might be able to help them – and are staying here and there with friends, moving from couch to couch.

"State aid programs don't reach them anymore," Markus Seidel, spokesman for the Off Road Kids foundation, tells DW. "They are about to lose all connections to the social system."

Connecting online
To try to engage sofa hoppers and get them into better circumstances, Off Road Kids set up A YouTube video on the home page that suggests there are better solutions than a random couch. There's also a live online chat feature that enables site visitors to connect anonymously with a social worker or leave a message.

In less than a month the site was proving popular, according to Colin Emde, who heads the Off Road Kids Cologne office. He suggested entering an online conversation on a smartphone is not as intimidating as visiting a large public agency.

"It's hard to go up to an office where people can see you to talk about your problems," Emde told DW. "Youth enter our online chat anonymously and then we can try to get them here as soon as possible so we can really help them."

When they do get to the Off Roads Kids office in Cologne, for example, they have a place to use a computer, get help from foundation staff with bureaucratic paperwork and next steps. They even have a place to receive mail -- important for landing a job.

According to DW, since setting up the Cologne office of Off Road Kids in 2005, the team has helped get an estimated 800 teens and young adults off the streets. Its work is supported by donations, not state money.

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This article is from the Council's Compassionate Cities initiative which highlights how city leaders and other stakeholders can leverage smart technologies to end suffering in their communities and give all citizens a route out of poverty. Click the Compassionate Cities box on our registration page to receive our weekly newsletter.

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