Cisco Systems, Data#3, Telstra and their various IT partners have teamed up to internet-enable a mobile outreach program that brings aid to around a thousand homeless and disadvantaged people in South Brisbane.
The firms have brought the internet to South Brisbane's MOSHPIT (Mobile Outreach Support and Health Project by Integrated Teams) bus, a three-year-old service led by DrugArm and Mater Health Services with the help of St Luke's Nursing Service, Centrelink, Brisbane City Council and Queensland Department of Communities.
Ross Fowler, managing director at Cisco Australia, said the community consortium used the MOSHPIT bus to give services to South Brisbane's disadvantaged – mainly the homeless but also people with drug problems or troubled teens.
Cisco had the idea in a brainstorming session with MOSHPIT. Cisco was donating networking hardware, software and support, Data#3 some laptops and Telstra was subsidising high-speed wireless broadband connectivity for the bus, Fowler said.
Various IT partners, such as Maxon and IBM, were also helping out. "Now, [MOSHPIT's] getting access to real-time, updated information," Fowler said.
Krishna Heffernan, Queensland state manager at DrugArm, which provides the bus, a program co-ordinator, driver and outreach team, said workers would for the first time be able to link back to their main database to get the most up-to-date information to help clients.
Previously, making appointments and collecting data was done on paper, which meant laborious transcription of a lot of information back at the services' main offices, she said.
"Long term, the possibilities are endless. It would be lovely to get to the stage where clients can have their own email and pick it up [at MOSHPIT]," Heffernan said. "The next stage is to work with Cisco and the other companies to take that next step."
She said homeless people were often further disadvantaged by not having any way to collect mail or messages. Email access could help lessen the isolation from services and other people that tended to reinforce their problems.
MOSHPIT had received 13,500 contacts a year. "About 9900 of those talked to us about homelessness issues. They were either homeless, or at risk of homelessness, or were in a situation, such as young people who couch-surf," Heffernan said.
The service gave out some 11,000 cups of tea or coffee a year and 1800 individual referrals to services, such as healthcare or job help. About 559 people requested help to get counselling and some 358 were recorded as possibly having mental health issues that might need monitoring, Heffernan said.
Kate Ramsay, community liaison and mission integration coordinator at specialist health practice Mater Health Service, said an estimated 1000 people at any one time in South Brisbane might count as clients of MOSHPIT.
The outreach program got healthcare to people not able to access it themselves. "This is very exciting," she said.
Internet provision would help MOSHPIT provide that help more cheaply and efficiently. For example, staff could get the latest information on medical issues, such as illicit drug use, on the spot while the client was with them, Ramsay said.