Mobile Lives

Research dive into the priorities of homeless young people

“My care coordinator was made redundant and they decided I didn’t need a new one. This left me with a significantly reduced amount of support and vulnerable. I tried asking for a new one but I was told because I was not in therapy I didn’t need one. It took eight months and a hospital admission for them to finally listen.”

Andy Holli-Kinnear


Young people are particularly vulnerable while in emergency accommodation. Mobile Lives was a youth-led reporting project that used basic pay-as-you-go mobiles as reporting tools for young hostel residents experiencing homelessness in the UK. This project was aimed at improving their communication capacity to record their experiences in real-time. Information gathered provided insight into the challenges that youth were facing when living in hostels, and contributed to the call for a review of housing policy.

Read the digital report created with the youth network here


Paired with mentors from our editorial team, the project used a mix of scheduled texts and recorded mobile conversations to prompt a deeper conversation around hostel conditions and routes in and out of homelessness. The reporting line was open round the clock, with participants often choosing to engage between 10pm-2am. The project taught us a lot about working flexibly while retaining necessary boundaries, and highlighted the importance of working with solid front line partners who can offer therapeutic and service support. 

Towards the end of the project, all the conversations and texts were curated into over 100 ‘insight cards’ and participants were invited to a full-day session where we worked together to group these cards into a wall over interlinked but distinct topics and issues. This data analysis, using just post-it notes and sharpies, was highly visual and really effective in closing the feedback loop and engaging the reporters beyond the reporting phase. Many of them said that seeing their own concerns and vulnerabilities up on the wall, and voiced by someone else helped them feel less alone.  

The end result was a raw digital insights report which, at the request of the participants, was written in one collective voice and outlined ways to better support vulnerable youth facing housing crises. Using text messages and voicemails, they shone a spotlight on bullying in hostels and the increasing infringements of the information rights and privacy of homeless youth.


The project demonstrated the value in young homeless people sharing their stories and experiences via mobile. The reporters fed back that the approach allowed them to share insights without feeling judged as well as providing scope for them to explore the issues that mattered to them  They shared over 190 reports focused on service gaps, providing a unique insight into their day-to-day experiences and adding depth to existing sector knowledge around young people’s experience of homelessness. Feedback from frontline workers was that – due to the story gathering approach and the first-person presentation of the content – the insights were unusually affecting. Hearing the issues framed by people with personal experience was seen as imperative to gaining a deeper understanding.

The digital feature has been shared within the sector and accessed more than 200 times. Key social media insights were access by over 39,000 people. Significantly, we’ve received specific feedback that the insights are actionable by organisations. One leading housing organisation said: “we are going to look at becoming much clearer with young people about what information we keep about them, where we keep it and what we will do with it when they move on.”


 The project was supported by Comic Relief, in partnership with St Basil’s and the YMCA.