Vancouver’s StreetMessenger now displays shelter bed availability in real time on Google Maps and expands across Canada to combat homelessness

(OTTAWA, ON, August 22, 2017) - The Vancouver Community Network (VCN) has launched StreetMessenger.ca, which leverages SMS technology to send messages to the cell phones of homeless and street-involved youth with program information, life-saving alerts and real-time updates on available shelter beds displayed on Google Maps. Work on this program started in 2014 in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. Leveraging that success, and with support from the Canadian Internet Registration Authority and Employment and Social Development Canada, StreetMessenger is now open to every community in Canada.

With the live-launch of StreetMessenger, VCN is working with community organizations in Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto to register cellphone carrying at-risk street and marginalized individuals in their communities.

"We know that more than 67 per cent of people under 30 experiencing homelessness have cellphones. And text messaging is the best outreach tool given posters aren't seen and more than half of emails are never read," said Tracey Axelsson, VCN's executive director. "The reaction has been very positive here in Vancouver and we want cities across the country to know it is available in their communities as well."

Vancouver's homeless count has increased by 30 per cent since 2014. With homelessness on the rise, better access to interventions is needed to reduce these numbers and get people housed. StreetMessenger has been well-received by users in Vancouver. In fact, 97 per cent of people approached by VCN enrolled immediately to receive messages about services offered in their community.

StreetMessenger is an outreach tool that sends time-sensitive alerts on available program information for job skills and training sessions, pop-up health clinics, messages about where a mobile unit is or will be, emergency alerts that can save lives including bad batches of drugs in the community, as well as instantly distributing information about missing persons. The system can send messages in any language.

"When VCN applied to CIRA's Community Investment Program to develop this project we immediately recognized the reach and impact it could have on so many people," said Byron Holland, CIRA's president and CEO. "We believe in supporting initiatives that harness the power of technology to change lives for the better. VCN is linking simple but powerful technologies with smart and passionate people to solve real-world problems. I'm incredibly proud to support this as part of CIRA's commitment to building a better online Canada."

"The work done by the Vancouver Community Network is essential in addressing unique problems associated with the chronically and episodically homeless populations. This organization is taking innovative measures to address enduring social issues with the ultimate goal of having more positive outcomes for people experiencing homelessness. The Government of Canada is proud to support projects like this one in order to help prevent and reduce homelessness," said the Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development.

The final phase of development for StreetMessenger was completed in January and included a process that allows frontline shelter administrators to send the number of beds available via text to StreetMessenger, which then displays it on the Google map icon showing the shelter's location.

Frontline workers tell VCN they spend two or more hours a night responding to calls for bed availability or trying to find a place for someone. This system will let them get back to doing what they do best -- supporting people in their shelter.

StreetMessenger is live and already making a difference in Vancouver. It is certain to have a positive impact on street-involved individuals in Calgary, Toronto and beyond. Clients can enroll themselves by sending a text to 778-819-6826 or visit streetmessenger.ca to learn more.

About the Vancouver Community Network

The Vancouver Community Network (VCN) owns, operates and promotes a free, publicly accessible, non-commercial, computer utility in Metro Vancouver. VCN enhances communities and organizations, using information technology to create positive social change. VCN works to create social equality and opportunity by empowering individuals and the organizations working to support them through access to information technology communication (ITC) with free dial-up Internet, free/low cost technical and website support, computer training, and web hosting.

About the Employment and Social Development Canada's Innovative Solutions to Homelessness Funding

This funding stream of ESDC supports projects that develop innovative and effective best practices or innovatively build capacity to prevent or reduce homelessness in Canada. The aim of these projects will be to demonstrate the effectiveness of current practices or to develop, test and evaluate a new practice. The Innovative Solutions to Homelessness funding stream is delivered nationally and supports the development of innovative approaches to reducing homelessness.

About CIRA's Community Investment Program

CIRA is building a better online Canada through the Community Investment Program by funding innovative projects led by charities, not-for-profits and academic institutions that are making the Internet better for all Canadians. CIRA is best known for our role managing the .CA domain on behalf of all Canadians. While this remains our primary mandate, as a member-based not-for-profit ourselves, we have a much broader goal to strengthen Canada's Internet. The Community Investment Program is one of our most valuable contributions toward this goal and funds projects in digital literacy, online services, research and infrastructure. Every .CA domain name registered or renewed contributes to this program. To date CIRA has supported 100 projects with over $4.2 million in contributions.