Working with homeless learners

Image: Photo of a man in a baseball cap looking at a computer screen

Every 18 minutes a household becomes homeless. People experiencing homelessness have often experienced trauma which gets worse when they become homeless. Essential Digital Skills are part of their journey of recovery back to social connection.

Image : messy graphic with text Biggest Issue

Hard to balance the delivery of digital inclusion with the desperate and immediate need for emergency front line services, like food and clothing

Offer digital skills training at an appropriate time when the skills will be useful and empower the person to make life changes

  • Overcoming other life barriers (e.g. trauma, health needs, disability, literacy, ESOL)
  • Assumptions by support staff of what is important, for example
    – digital is not a priority (e.g. a shower, food, clothes may be crucial)
    – or digital is a priority, e.g. social media may be crucial for keeping contacts and social connections
  • Physical barriers, e.g. where to go to charge devices/ access WiFi
  • Costs of a device
  • A computer may become essential (e.g. applications for and updates required for Universal Credit are not possible to manage via mobile phone)
  • Staying safe and legal online – staff’s experience was that people lack those skills
  • Supporting users who cannot remember their own passwords
  • Creating a safe space/ providing people with space to carry out digital tasks, physical privacy
  • Measuring/evaluating long term impact of digital skills support is difficult to achieve – especially where service users have multiple issues that are being addressed & supported
  • Securing funding to support digital skills support

Image : Jigsaw graphic of what to teach homeless learners with the text Password security; Privacy settings; Maps & Streetview; YouTube; Universal credit; Online banking

Image : Jigsaw graphic of top tips for Digital Champions with the tips Follow procedure; Stay safe; Build trust; Be inclusive; Teach risks; Keep it practical

Image: Jigsaw graphic of top tips for projects with the text Consider timing; Minimise staff risk; Consider client risk; Make no assumptions

Consider timing
– Offer digital skills training at an appropriate time when the skills will be useful and empower the client to make life changes
– Ensure opening times work for service users & consider wider opening times

Minimise staff risk
– Service-user privacy policies for staff (e.g. to advise them on how to support someone without compromising the learner’s privacy)
– Encourage staff to consider degrees of risk (e.g. protecting own passwords & privacy/ security of networks they use/ using screen locks)
– Staff may need digital skills training themselves

Consider client risk
– Integrate learning about risks (e.g. passwords), privacy & security
– Teach use of Password Vaults or using fingerprint verification/ facial recognition

Make no assumptions
– Some clients may have strong digital skills, some may lack basic skills
– You may want to use a screening tool, like SCVO’s Foundation Skills checklist


  • LastPass – safe online password vault, only one password to remember
  • Fingerprint verification
  • Browse Aloud – easy speech, reading and translation tools to make websites more accessible
  • Get Digital Scotland – improving access to the digital world for people affected by homelessness
  • Digital Unite Technology Guides – hundreds of “how to” guides on various digital topics
  • Digital Champions Network – Digital Unite’s unique training and support community for aspiring and experienced Digital Champions
  • Learn My Way – free digital courses for learners and tutors
  • Mhor Collective & Streetwork developing knowledge base
  • Streetwork digital assessment tool
  • Reboot UK’s Digital Inclusion cards to help organisations design activities to improve people’s digital skills

Research, Reports and Publications

Always remember that learners may not be typical of their group and may have multiple additional needs => Look at the other guides for tips and resources

Many thanks to our partners Streetwork and Mhor Collective who contributed to developing the learning on this topic