‘Pokémon Go with a social conscience’ to fight homelessness

Citizens are being asked to play a version of Pokémon Go to help solve the housing crisis.

Social entrepreneur and urban planning expert Phillip Crowe has set up Space Engagers — a platform that allows people to map Ireland online.

It is currently being used by the homelessness charity, the Peter McVerry Trust, to locate vacant properties around Dublin and the rest of the country.

The Space Engagers’ project in the capital is called Reusing Dublin and so far active citizens have helped to locate 40,000 vacant properties in the city that could be regenerated for homeless people.

“We started with a platform called Reusing Dublin, which is basically a crowd-sourced platform where people put up vacant and unused spaces onto a map,” said Mr Crowe.

“We’ve got thousands of people following us and the mapping seemed to have some effect in terms of engaging people with the issue.

“We call ourselves a version of Pokémon Go with a social conscience.”

While the project in the capital is called Reusing Dublin, the general app which is being prepared for launch goes by the organisation’s name, Space Engagers.

“You can engage in a number of different projects on the app,” explained Mr Crowe.

“You take a picture and the picture is geotagged and goes on to a map.

“You take individual pieces of information and individual observations and you put them into a collective space.

“When you put them into a collective space you get an overall picture.

“We started applying it to urban regeneration projects.”

Another of the projects is the urban regeneration of Longford town.

The social entrepreneur said the success of the interactive mapping is based on ordinary people’s willingness to engage and improve society.

“We’re testing out this idea of interactive mapping. Can it engage people with local issues?” said Mr Crowe.

“Can it generate useful information that is distributed out over a very large area that’s resource-intensive to gather?

“Thirdly, can we use that engagement to make a difference, to do things differently?

“People know their local areas best. Citizens are interested in bringing about positive change.”

The Dublin arm of the project, Reusing Dublin was initially developed by Mr Crowe and his colleague Aoife Corcoran as part of an EU-funded project called Turas (Transitioning towards Urban Resilience and Sustainability).

Last year, their project ended but its achievement was spotted by the Peter McVerry Trust, which engaged with the researchers.

It will now be used by the housing charity to create a campaign platform.

“The campaign will concentrate on the need to increase housing supply and availability as well as improve land and property management systems,” said a spokesperson for the Peter McVerry Trust.

“Ultimately, it is hoped that the campaign will result in a number of positive social impacts, as well as delivering an improved urban environment.”

The most recent figures show a record total of 8,270 people homeless in Ireland, made up of 5,222 adults and 3,048 children.

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