Newswise — HOUSTON – (Oct. 6, 2017) – Researchers from The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) hope to put a dent in the cycle of re-arrest and release among homeless adults with research on a smartphone app funded by a $3.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

An estimated 3.5 million people experience homelessness each year in the U.S. and 6.2 percent of U.S. adults have been homeless at some point in their lifetime. Homeless adults are more likely to spend time in jail and more likely to return to jail after incarceration than adults who are not homeless, according to Jennifer M. Gonzalez, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology, Human Genetics and Environmental Sciences at UTHealth School of Public Health in Dallas and one of the principal investigators on the project.

The study will assess whether a smartphone app designed to assess and modify health behaviors among low-income and homeless adults will help reduce re-arrest rates. One group of participants will receive the app pre-loaded on a smartphone plus usual shelter-based case management; another group will receive a smartphone without the app and case management; and a third group will only receive case management services.

Case managers work to meet the needs of their clients and help them find housing, job training, medical care, social support and various other services after they are released from jail. Homeless adults who receive case management experience fewer mental health and substance use problems, are more likely to obtain stable housing and are less likely to be re-incarcerated. The app will address barriers to accessing case management such as limited transportation, inability to schedule appointments and limited knowledge of available services.

“We’re hoping that our app encourages homeless adults to seek treatment for substance use and behavioral health needs, and as a result, helps them obtain stable housing and terminate this cycle of re-arrest. If the app is successful, it will be very easy for other cities and counties to implement this program among homeless adults in their areas. We are hoping that in the future, our app can help homeless people across the country,” said Gonzalez.

The study includes researchers from the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, UT Southwestern Medical Center, the University of Kentucky and The Bridge Homeless Recovery Center in Dallas.

The five-year study will enroll 432 participants from the Dallas-based Homeless Recovery Program. Funding was granted through the NIH’s National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (1R01MD010733-01A1).