Researchers use technology to help keep homeless population out of jail

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OKLAHOMA CITY - A local group is working to help keep Oklahoma's homeless population out of jail through the use of a new app.

Researchers with the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center recently received a $3.3 million grant through the National Institutes of Health to develop the app to decrease the incarceration rate of the homeless residents.

"Homeless individuals are more likely to get arrested and, when they get arrested, they don't have any resources, so they can't pay their fines so they stay in jail two, three, five days,” said Dr. Michael Businelle, lead investigator for the project.

In addition to taking up space in overcrowded jails, Businelle said it's a problem that costs taxpayers around $75 per inmate per day.

Businelle conducted a study at six of Oklahoma City's homeless shelters and found 75 percent of people at the shelters had a cellphone.

"Interestingly, this program started under Ronald Reagan back in the 1980s. It's called the 'Lifeline Program' for folks who are in poverty,” Businelle said.

Recently, researchers developed the Link2Care app, which will connect homeless adults to resources in their community including substance abuse and mental health counseling.

Organizers said adults will receive information about the app as they leave the jail. If they choose to download the app, they will be given a list of questions.

"Each day, the phone will ring 30 minutes after whatever the person's normal waking time is and ask them questions: Did they smoke? Did they drink? Did they use illicit drugs?” Businelle said.

Link2Care will be the first of its kind for the research group.

"Increased connections will reduce mental health problems, substance abuse problems, reduce homeless nights and reduce recidivism or re-arrest, ultimately decreasing the money taxpayers have to pay to house homeless individuals in jail," he said.

Researchers at OU Health Sciences Center are also working with researchers in Texas and Kentucky for the project. The five-year study will start next month in Dallas with the hope to expand to other cities.

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