Bridging the digital divide for homeless during covid

Released on 26th July 2020

A ‘zine, produced by people who are homeless, and distribution of nearly 100 mobile phones and smart devices, are among the initiatives cohealth is using to connect people experiencing homelessness during COVID-19.

“Right now, we’re more reliant on phones and devices than ever before to stay safe, stay connected and stay informed. But many people who are homeless don’t have mobile phones, making it harder to access up-to-the minute health advice,” said Nicole Bartholomeusz, CEO, cohealth.

To help bridge the digital divide, cohealth’s homelessness program, based at its Central City clinic, has distributed nearly 100 old Nokia phones (chosen for their long battery life), and smart tablets to clients experiencing homelessness during the pandemic. As well as providing the devices to clients, cohealth pays for a 6-month mobile and data plan.

“The phones and tablets are a way for our workers to stay in touch with clients experiencing homelessness, respond to their health needs, and make sure they have the latest COVID advice,” said Ms Bartholomeusz.

“The devices are also being used as a tool for social engagement with cohealth clients taking virtual tours of Melbourne zoo and other popular attractions,” she said.

As well as efforts to bridge the digital divide, 800 copies of a new cohealth ‘zine produced entirely by people experiencing homelessness will be distributed via drop-in centres, hospital emergency departments, train stations and hotels in which the homeless are being accommodated.

The ‘zine called ‘Need to Know’ was funded by cohealth and a grant from the City of Melbourne, and the editorial committee of eight includes people sleeping rough, living in rooming houses, in transitional housing and those being accommodated in hotels.  cohealth’s ‘Need to Know’ is available both in hard copy, as well as via a website (

cohealth provided a workspace at its Central City clinic, and a project lead to help connect the Need to Know editorial team with designers and printers. The ‘zine is currently seeking new philanthropic funding in order to continue production.

“It’s a unique resource, written in a respectful, kind way – nothing like this currently exists. A hard copy paper gets passed through many hands. Each copy of the ‘zine might be read by a dozen people, so the reach is tremendous,” said Ms Bartholomeusz.

“The ‘zine includes tips for surviving the streets during COVID-19, legal advice, and feature articles and vox pops. Its uniqueness comes from the fact that it’s produced by people who have experienced homelessness, specifically for people who are homeless,” she said.

— Ends —

more information:  Lanie Harris 0418 552 377

More on cohealth:

cohealth is a Victorian not-for-profit community health organisation that strives to improve health and wellbeing for all. It provides universal access to services as well as targeted programs and assertive models to address the health disparities experienced by disadvantaged groups. cohealth offers a broad range of high quality, integrated health and support services, including medical oral, pharmacy, mental health and drug and alcohol services.

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