Posted on Thursday 2 May 2013 by Ulster Business

Educational app launch

Charlie Eatwell and Paul Dougan with Minister Nelson McCausland

What does homeless person look like? According to children from St Patrick's Primary School in Portrush a homeless person ... 'is a man' ... 'has a beard' ... 'wears a hat' ... 'has a dog on a string' ... 'and a tin can to beg for money'.

That, at least is what the lively Primary 4 class used to think, before Simon Community challenged them to think about stereotypes in homelessness.

The children from St Patrick's, together with students from nearby Coleraine College, were helping to launch a new app specially created by Simon Community NI, the voluntary organisation based in Northern Ireland which provides emergency accommodation, advice and community support for people who are homeless or who are at risk of becoming homeless.

The charity has developed a creative interactive website programme, the first of its kind in the UK, to take complex messages about the causes and effects of homelessness to young audiences in a dramatic and memorable fashion. Schoolchildren can now create, on-screen, their own homeless 'avatars', then will be encouraged to contrast those virtual lifestyles with the tough reality of homelessness, facing the challenge of trying to house virtual families and individuals against the backdrop of real-life limitations and emerging impacts from the welfare reform agenda.

The new educational resource is strongly focused on the housing issues which young people may themselves face, especially in the light of the current reforms to welfare assistance. The on-screen work will also support 'Learning for Life & Work' elements of the core curriculum and will be an important resource for youth workers. Joy Allen, Chairman of Simon Community NI, added "Our team wanted to develop a resource in a medium that young people use and can readily associate with. We wanted a strong message centred on the housing issues young people may face, especially in light of the implications arising from the Reforms to welfare assistance. Our aim was to create a resource relevant to the curriculum that is user friendly for Teachers and Youth workers that helps them to help us raise awareness of homelessness, its realities and the impact homelessness has on and for young people in their locality. "

Speaking at the launch of the project, Minister for Social Development, Nelson McCausland said: "This new resource developed by Simon Community NI in partnership with the education authorities and schools fits in with my Departmental Homelessness Strategy. It is based on early intervention and introduces the concept of homelessness to school children in an educational and practical way. I am pleased to see this being done and I would like to congratulate Simon Community NI and all those involved in creating this new innovative on-line app."

Maria McCormack, a teacher at Coleraine College, welcomed the initiative, saying, "The Simon Community resource allows us to make students think more deeply and to see that there is no 'typical' homeless person and there are many reasons for homelessness such as individual, societal and family breakdown factors. Throughout workshops with The Simon Community my pupils have learnt to be more tolerant of others and are more willing to see the bigger picture. Perhaps previously they would have been in judgement of others but now they know the importance of dialogue, tolerance, respect and empathy.

"The service which the Simon Community Homelessness Prevention Team already offered in the form of workshops was a great resource for schools and this new digital concept can only enhance it."

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