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What do you do when you see someone sleeping rough?...

Mark Russell User Experience Consultant

If you're anything like me, you probably walk on by feeling somewhat useless, with no real understanding of what you could do about it, or where you could turn if it ever happened to you.

Launched in December 2012, Streetlink, the new initiative from Homeless Link and Broadway aims to change this. Building on the successful No Second Night Out project launched in London in 2011, Streetlink enables members of the public, police officers, healthcare professionals, and rough sleepers themselves - to make contact with local authorities and support organisations, ensuring that rough sleepers are located and given access to the services they need as quickly as possible.

With over 2000 people estimated to be sleeping rough in England on any given night, Streetlink is an essential service, and arrives at a time of year when it is vital that rough sleepers don't spend a second night on the streets.

When Homeless Link and Broadway approached us to help with this project, we were proud to be involved, whilst at the same time quite daunted by the numerous challenges the project presented - not least of which were a fairly tight deadline, and the need for a flexible, intuitive back end interface for the staff managing referrals.

But most interesting for me were the unique aspects of the site's user experience. How could we ensure that reports were as detailed and useful as possible, without making the process too arduous - especially given that most referrals would likely be made on dark streets, at night, using smartphones? How could we enable people to report when back at home or in the office, while still allowing them to precisely pinpoint the location of the rough sleeper?

The guiding principles behind the Streetlink site were simplicity and direct action. The homepage of the desktop and mobile versions focuses on encouraging users to refer online, or to call Streetlink to make a referral. The referral form itself contains very few mandatory fields - asking at the very minimum for a location and description of the rough sleeper's surroundings to help local authorities and support agencies find them. Users can add more detailed information, or leave their contact information for follow-up by phone or email.

After referring rough sleepers, users are given more information on what will happen as a result of their report, and also given advice on other ways they can get involved in helping rough sleepers in their area.

The desktop site integrates with Google Maps to allow users to search for a location or postcode, before dropping a custom pin to refine and adjust the location - crucial for referrals made from home or work, where a general location might be known, but the specific location of the rough sleeper might rely on recognising a nearby landmark or an unmarked location. This information is matched against local authority location data to ensure that the referral reaches the correct services. An interactive map also allows users to see figures on rough sleepers in their area, and numbers of people helped by Streetlink.

When viewed on a smartphone, the user is redirected to the mobile version. Featuring a further stripped down site structure, and building on our experiences in creating the Crimestoppers mobile site mobile utilises device features such as ‘tap to call’ to enable quick referral to the phone line, and geolocation to pinpoint the user, while allowing them to refine the position and location description in situations where geolocation does not behave as expected.

Finally, the mobile app reproduces the mobile site functionality, but capitalises on the interest shown by users engaged enough to download it in the first place by allowing them to save their personal details not only to save time on referrals, but also to receive information on future initiatives and ways to get involved in helping rough sleepers, as well as a mobile optimised version of the rough sleeper numbers by local authority from the desktop site. The app is now available for Android from the Google Play store and for iPhones from the iTunes app store.

Streetlink has already started making a difference to people's lives - and we can all help. So download the app, or bookmark the site today, and next time you pass a rough sleeper, you'll know exactly what to do.