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ProxyAddress: Using Location Data to Reconnect Those Facing Homelessness with Support Services

Chris Hildrey, Hildrey Studio, London

Awards RIBA President's Awards for Research 2018
Category Cities & Community

On-site at the Royal Mail’s Mount Pleasant Mail Centre, London, © Hildrey Studio

With a shortage of public-sector housing, funding, and resource, the architectural profession stands uniquely placed to use its understanding of the built environment to help ensure those who live in it are not marginalised by it. However, housing remains central to the hardships of those most in need with the leading cause of the UK’s growing homelessness problem being the end of an assured shorthold tenancy.

All too often this milestone represents a watershed moment, introducing additional and unnecessary barriers that prevent early recovery. This can lead to a downward spiral into entrenchment and the development or exacerbation of serious issues relating to mental health or substance abuse.

The ultimate goal of any intervention into homelessness is to help an individual make the journey back to independence and into mainstream society. But, with insufficient affordable housing being built and the architect’s role itself being increasingly marginalised in the decision-making process, how can the profession apply its strategic knowledge and analytical skills to make our cities more inclusive?

The ProxyAddress project set out to tackle this issue through research and real-world application. Following an eight-month period of historical research and collaboration with various stakeholders - including those experiencing homelessness, front line support workers, national homeless charities, policy makers, academics, members of parliament, credit reference agencies, financial regulators, local authorities, and the Royal Mail – the programme created a system to use the address data of long-term empty properties to serve as a consistent ‘proxy’ addresses to be used throughout these periods of instability. Linking existing information and systems, this mediating database provides access to vital support services otherwise lost, including: access to bank accounts, identification, benefits, a library card, and the avoidance of stigma while seeking employment.

The ProxyAddress system is now moving towards live trials with Lewisham Council in London.

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