Homeless Hub harnesses the power of social media and e-book technology

Two projects led by York education Professor Stephen Gaetz are taking research on homelessness out of the realm of the academic and into the world of online media where members of the public can engage with the work using the latest tools in Web development.

Left: Stephen Gaetz

The Homeless Hub Web site relaunched Thursday with enhanced social networking tools and an expanded resources database. The new site offers the public, members of government, academics and others a way to experience the wealth of homelessness research available on the site with an interface modelled on sites like Facebook.

Visitors to the site can now add articles to a favourites menu, comment on studies, tag and edit articles under certain topic headings and create communities consisting of others doing similar research. 

Entrenched in the Web 2.0 experience, the tools offered on the Homeless Hub are rare in the academic world, where information is still disseminated through fairly traditional means.

“When we first set up the Homeless Hub we recognized that there was a need to create a mechanism to get homelessness research out there, into the hands of policy-makers, service providers and the general public,” says Gaetz, associate dean of research and field development in the Faculty of Education at York.

“With Phase 2 we are adding a number of new features, including curriculum materials for teachers, resources to help people do research and a networking area that will allow those interested in homelessness research to connect,” he says.

"We think it is important to make homelessness research accessible to a wider audience so we are exploring new technologies to support open access publishing of journals and books,” says Gaetz. “For instance, we’re taking advantage of emerging e-book technology to create new ways to disseminate research.” 

In keeping with this trend, the Homeless Hub is also launching its first e-book. Finding Home, a new reader on homelessness in Canada edited by Professor David Hulchanski of the University of Toronto’s Centre for Urban & Community Studies, with co-editors Philippa Campsie, Shirley Chau, Stephen Hwang and Emily Paradis features the latest in homelessness research in language that is accessible to the general public.

The e-book, which can be downloaded for free, uses the free and open standard EPUB technology to display the book content in a format suitable for hand-held devices and smart phones. 

“The whole benefit of EPUB is that it is custom tailored to whatever size screen you’re working with,” says York Open Source Architect Evan Leibovitch. “Going to the EPUB format is part of the attempt to make the document as accessible as possible to a lay audience of practitioners, journalists, politicians and anybody else. The technology itself will be mainstream in a year or so and we want to be one of the first academic institutions out the door with it.”

For more information, visit the Homeless Hub Web site.