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Housing

Meet the campaigner launching the ‘Uber for homelessness’

Amy Varle was living in a hostel 20 years ago, now she’s creating a social platform to connect charities, people and organisations and, ultimately, end homelessness.

Amy Varle found herself living in a hostel 20 years ago – now she has launched a social network platform she hopes will end homelessness for good.

Varle, from Greater Manchester, has travelled around the UK and the US to work on her solution to homelessness after finding herself without a home at the age of 16.

She launched Socially Homes at a Westminster event on September 24. The social networking site has been billed as the ‘Uber for homelessness’ due to its potential to connect people without a home with the people who can find them a permanent one.

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“What we’re working towards ultimately is basically a drag and drop solution to end homelessness,” said Varle, now 36. 

“We hope any person in need can eventually go on to our site. It’s not just about finding a suitable housing option or a range of them, but also finding all of the supporting services and the aspirational input, guides or forms or whatever it is they need to navigate through that process of finding a house, actually sustaining that property and going into a new life.”

Socially Homes will be rolled out over the next two years but Varle has big dreams for the project, which she hopes will achieve ‘Impact Unicorn’ status in the next 10 years by touching a billion people’s lives.

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Varle has been investigating methods of preventing and ending homelessness for years and, backed by the Churchill Trust since 2016, she has visited Project Homeless Connect in San Francisco and Breaking Ground in New York and published a white paper of policy recommendations on her return.

Her research has taught her two things.

Firstly, the Housing First model – where rough sleepers are given a home alongside support to help them keep it – is key to ending homelessness.

Secondly, a lot of the solutions to homelessness are already in place, they just need “joining up”, which is why Varle landed on the concept for Socially Homes.

“I think everybody expected me to come back with some crazy new innovations when it came to homelessness,” added Varle.

Amy Varle homeless hostel
Amy Varle lived in a homeless hostel when she was 16. Here experience inspired a 20-year mission to end homelessness. Image: Amy Varle

“Actually what I always say is the solutions are already out there already. They’re just not joined up and when they do join up, they often don’t know how to work together. 

“What we’re trying to do is bring everybody on to a bit of a level playing field and say, actually, we all have a piece of the jigsaw here, we all have an equal part of the jigsaw, you know, and this is the value in this service.”

During the pandemic, Varle has been working with other experts to create best products of reducing homelessness and developing an online community from the charity sector and investment sector as well as housing and homelessness service providers.

The expertise also comes from people with experience of homelessness, according to Varle, who insisted those who have lived on the streets will be paid as consultants for offering up their knowledge.

Varle claims the network has already created housing and support solutions for almost one thousand vulnerable individuals across Britain.

Next year she will take the model to the US with Socially Homes’ first ‘Global Gathering’ conference to be held in California in the spring.

The model has already been given the backing of experts in the UK.

Tony McKenzie, Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s senior participation officer, said: “I am super excited about the launch and especially the digital tech-for-good platform because social housing has been in need of innovation that is companionate and sustainable to address homelessness.” 

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Varle’s model comes at a crunch time for the Westminster government and the target to end rough sleeping by 2024.

The Big Issue has warned that thousands of people are facing homelessness in the months ahead due to rising energy prices and taxes as well as falling support as the end of the furlough scheme and the universal credit £20 uplift begins to bite.

The Big Issue has launched the Stop Mass Homelessness campaign to prevent surging homelessness. Find out how you can get involved here.

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