iHobo: Can an iPhone App End Homelessness?

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Depaul UK, a London-based charity that aids the homeless, together with Publicis London, have released the world’s first philanthropic iPhone app. It’s called iHobo, and it’s a destitute, virtual vagrant in your pocket — sort of like a Tamagotchi. For three days, it’s your job to attend to all of iHobo’s needs, whether it be food, shelter, or emotional comfort via the touch of the screen. If you neglect him, he’ll run the risk of succumbing to a life of crime, drug use, and mental illness. Like any video game where survival is the goal, you can monitor his health to adapt your strategy as new problems arise.

Depaul hopes iHobo will educate the public on the complexities of street life, and encourage donations amongst young people. Currently, the organization receives most of its support from people over the age of 65. As stated in their promotional video: “Once you’ve tried to help a virtual one/ You’ll feel more inclined to help a real one.” According to the Guardian, since iHobo was launched just over a week ago, it has already been downloaded more than 95,000 times.

Near the end of the following clip, a woman is holding up a cardboard sign that reads, “Walking past them is easy… But when they’re virtual it’s real. Weird.” That is weird; but increasingly less so.