Unique New Mobile App Aims To Provide Services To Brno’s Drug Users and Homeless

The app, developed by Brno-based non-profit organisation Podané Ruce, is the first of its kind in Europe. Photo credit: Casadei Graphics.

Brno, Mar 5 (BD) – A new mobile application, developed in Brno and aimed specifically at the city’s homeless community and problem drug users, has been launched for a trial run. The app, “Čára”, was developed by the non-profit organisation Podané Ruce [“Helping Hands”] in cooperation with Oracle IT experts, and connects clients with basic services and useful practical information for life on the street, including social services, places to get free or cheap food, overnight accommodation, free wifi access, places they can recharge their phones, or the location of public toilets or drinking water. “These are essentially the basic things we all need, but things to which we living in normal life have much better access than those people who live wholly or partly on the street,” explained Martin Boxan, the head of the organisation’s Institute for Education and Supervision and the lead on the project.

Many of Brno’s homeless people nonetheless have mobile phones and are able to access the internet. However, in many cases they do not have data and rely on free public wifi. In view of this, Čára has been designed to operate offline, and updates its information automatically whenever it connects to the internet, just one of the ways that it is tailored specifically to the needs of its users. Although the app itself was developed by a working group of specialists in the development of mobile applications and experts on drug issues, the practical contributions from drug users living without a roof over the heads was also essential for the creation of the app. As Boxan explains, “we have always tried to maintain a participatory approach, where the user of the future service is a part of the process from the beginning, and the direction of development is determined by their needs. This makes it impossible for our applications not to benefit the target group, as they have devised it themselves.”

The name of the app, which translates as “Line”, is intended to work on many levels. As well as the reference to drug use, and the characterisation of the app as a lifeline for its users, Boxan adds that: “There are many lines in life that lead people to somewhere. A line often separates something, it’s going to draw a line under something.” “Čára” is also the local Brno nickname for the city’s central meeting place, Česká.

The main inspiration for Čára was the self-help manual “How To Survive in Brno On The Street”, published by the Brno Street Support Group, which attempts to engage actively with those living on the streets using drugs. The developers collected ideas for what features should be included, and spent the last year working on developing the program. The first test version was launched in December last year, and work on further development will continue this year, based on the results of the trial which began at the end of February. Based on the assumption that many potential users will have old phones, the app is designed for use with Android from version 4.2.

At the moment, the main function of Čára is to connect clients with services, but features that may be added in future include an early warning system, providing users with information on potentially dangerous substances on the local market to prevent deaths, or links to experts or a drug advisory service. The application will also offer contact with a trained social worker, or also a so-called peer worker, a person who has a lived experience of this lifestyle.

The project was co-financed by Brno City Hall and the Government Council for Drug Policy Coordination. If the trial goes well, it will be available as a free download on Google Play in mid-2019. The app is unique among European cities, and the only other city worldwide where similar initiatives are in operation is Chicago in the United States. However, if it proves a success, Boxan would like to offer the scheme to other organisations and launch the service in other towns and cities in the Czech Republic: “We would like to extend the information about the application to other aid organizations and social workers for whose clients it might be useful. At the same time, we welcome cooperation and we are open to other ideas for improvement.”

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